Less than a month after being inaugurated as Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al Sudani is already reneging on promises he made to secure his governing coalition. The longer these pledges go unmet, the longer Iraq’s destabilizing political polarization will persist.
To elect a president and form a cabinet, Al Sudani’s pro-Iran Shia political bloc, the Coordination Framework, needed support from the country’s Sunnis.
Sunnis traded their support for a promise that, once in power, the new prime minister would withdraw pro-Iran Shia militias, known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), from Sunni-dominated provinces in the northwest. Al Sudani agreed, and also vowed to issue a general pardon that would open the door for the rehabilitation of the mostly-Sunni ISIS fighters.
Neither of these promises have been kept. Pro-Iran Shia lawmakers have obstructed measures that would undermine the PMUs without disbanding them. Meanwhile, proposed legislation to reinstate a compulsory military draft, introduced as a way to deplete the pool of unemployed young men for pro-Iran militias to recruit from, has been blocked by pro-Iran Shia politicians.
Along similar lines, Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al Shammari, a Shia who ascended the military ranks (and who once ordered government forces to storm the headquarters of the biggest pro-Iran Shia militia, Kataeb Hezbollah) proposed the demilitarization of the country’s biggest cities and recommended that security be handed over to local and federal police.
Ejecting militias from cities would force them to shut down their offices, which are used to dispense favors to the local population, recruit fighters, and disseminate pro-Iran regime propaganda. Again, while Al Sudani feigned support for such a plan before his appointment, execution has fizzled since.
While Al Sudani has given the impression that he plans to empower the Iraqi state, his actions have so far avoided antagonizing pro-Iran Shia militias, whose very existence undermine the state itself.
As in Lebanon, Iraq’s pro-Iran militias are skilled political manipulators and use politics to secure their fate. These militias maneuver to force the election of an executive branch that bestows legitimacy on their existence – without ever questioning their armament or corruption.
Al Sudani has depicted himself as a prime minister busy combating corruption and building an economy that works for all Iraqis. But the governing model he has employed is doing just the opposite. Akin to the Iranian regime’s approach, Iraq’s government is concerned only with the economy and has ceded nearly everything else, especially security, to pro-Iran militias.
After the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, pro-Iran Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called for partnership with the opposition bloc – with caveats. “You handle reconstruction, and we handle resistance,” he said, explaining how Hezbollah would dictate Lebanon’s security and foreign policies. It’s a similar calculus in Iraq today.
Al Sudani’s effort to combat corruption has so far looked half-hearted and vengeful. The new cabinet did slaughter some sacred cows and arrested senior officers accused of running the “largest oil smuggling network” in the country. But it has yet to go after the political titans known for embezzling public funds and extending protection to corrupt civil servants and military personnel.
No one knows what Al Sudani is waiting for – if he is waiting for anything at all. The man got his call only because Iraq’s pro-Iran bloc, whose lawmakers lost the election, replaced the Sadrist bloc after its 73 MPs committed the blunder of resigning.
Al Sudani has tried to depict himself as an independent nonpartisan who stands at equal distance from everyone. So far, however, he’s not looked as impartial as claimed. On the contrary, he’s proven to be extremely biased toward the policies of the Iran regime in Iraq.
Al Sudani has yet to show willingness to defend Iraq’s basic interests. For example, Iraq has been raking in $10 billion a month since the beginning of this year, yet the Iraqi dinar has been losing value. The culprit is Iran, which uses small Iraqi banks and exchange shops to syphon foreign currency into the Iranian treasury.
Al Sudani’s tenure hasn’t even reached the 30-day mark, but judging by his performance so far, there’s little that can be described as success (or even the hint of it). Unless something changes, Iraqis are facing three more years of empty words and politics as usual.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.