Iraq between total chaos and slow recovery


The line between total chaos and a semblance of a political process has been blurred following Sunday’s acceptance by the Iraqi parliament of prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s resignation. This is a new territory for post-2003 Iraq; the first time that a sitting premier has been ousted as a result of public pressure and the loss of the confidence of the supreme religious authority Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani.

Abdel Mahdi’s departure, more than a year after he was chosen as a compromise candidate by the two largest blocs in parliament, Sairoon, led by cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, and Fatah, which is associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units headed by Hadi Al Amiri, is seen a triumph for the three-month old popular uprising. More importantly, his ouster is viewed as a defeat for Iran and its Iraqi proxies.

He now faces possible criminal charges, along with his interior and defense ministers, for the killing of over 400 and the injuring of more than 19,000 protesters since the outbreak of the uprising early in October. But while protestors celebrated his resignation, they continued to demand the departure of lawmakers as well. Their most important demand is the adoption of a new non-sectarian election law and a government headed by someone who has no ties to either the United States or Iran.

It is unlikely that they will get what they want, at least not now. Abdel Mahdi’s resignation has triggered a heated constitutional debate; one that will require a ruling by the supreme court. Apparently the constitution does not address the case of a premier resigning on his own. President Barham Salih will either head the government himself or designate a new candidate from the largest parliamentary bloc within 15 days. Sairoon has already said that it will not name a candidate of its own. One lawmaker described the current legal situation as “a constitutional black hole”.

The current impasse will encourage foreign powers to engage in behind-the-scenes horse-trading to come up with a candidate that both Tehran and Washington will support. But the old rules of the game have changed. Iraqis are showing a rare sense of unity in rejecting foreign meddling, especially in Shiite majority southern provinces. In Najaf, the seat of the religious authority, Iraqis marched denouncing the interference of both the US and Iran.


Osama al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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