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Iraqi court suspends Abadi's act to pull Fayadh from posts

A court ruling puts Faleh al-Fayadh back at the helm of Iraq's National Security Council and the Popular Mobilization Units, at least for now.

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Administrative Court has put a hold on an attempt to remove Falih al-Fayadh from his posts as leader of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and as an adviser and head of the National Security Council. 

The PMU is an umbrella military organization made up of dozens of militia groups, mostly Shiite ones. Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had dismissed Fayadh from his positions Aug. 30, citing “the Iraqi Constitution and the neutrality of the security and intelligence services” in politics. He explained that Fayadh’s “involvement in political and partisan work” was contrary to the “sensitive security tasks that he undertakes.”

But the court on Oct. 15 suspended Abadi's order, citing security issues: “It would be impossible to make up for the damage caused by the implementation of the contested decision, since [Fayadh] is responsible for a number of security agencies and leaving his responsibilities unattended would result in instability, given the prevailing security conditions and terrorist threats.”

Abadi disagreed with the court's assessment that removing Fayadh created a security issue. Significantly, as Abadi noted in an Oct. 16 response, the court hadn't nullified his decision to remove Fayadh, rather it simply suspended its implementation.

Abadi’s decision in August coincided with political wrangling as various parties sought to leverage their power by forming larger blocs. Abadi's order came as Fayadh was growing closer with Al-Binaa Alliance, which includes the State of Law Coalition and the Fatah Alliance, led by Abadi rivals Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Ameri, respectively. Fayadh once was affiliated with Abadi’s Nasr coalition.

The rapprochement posed a threat to Abadi's ambitions to serve a second term as prime minister, so his action against Fayadh, despite the justification offered, took on a political character — especially as Abadi could have taken the step immediately after the election May 12.

Mansour al-Mareed, a member of the Ataa bloc led by Fayadh, told Al-Monitor that Fayadh immediately resumed his duties on the National Security Council as soon as the Administrative Court ruled.

“The court's decision was made to fix the situation and prove that the measures taken against Fayadh were illegal," Mareed said. "This also stresses that Abadi’s decision to assign the duties of adviser and head of the National Security Council to the minister of interior and the minister of defense shall no longer be valid."

Speaking about Fayadh’s future in the government of Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi, Mareed said, “Fayadh is strongly nominated for the post of minister of interior.”

However, a source familiar with the negotiations to form Iraq's new government told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Abdul Mahdi would rather not have former ministers [and parliament members] in his government, including Fayadh, but some parties in Al-Binaa Alliance are pressing to have certain [parliamentarians], such as Fayadh, serve as ministers."

On the other hand, the source noted, the pressure could cause Abdul Mahdi to just postpone announcing his ministerial picks for defense, interior and national security, as well as for PMU chief.

Fayadh’s insistence on regaining his posts, especially as PMU head, is understandable at this particular time. The Sairoon Alliance, which includes cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has worked to abolish or restrict the PMU on more than one occasion. Abadi himself has tried to avoid applying the PMU law since it was approved in November 2016. Meanwhile, Al-Binaa Alliance includes both Maliki, who claims to be the first founder of the PMU, and the Fatah Alliance, which includes the PMU. This is why it was necessary for Fayadh to leave the Sadr-Abadi alliance and join the Maliki-Ameri one, to preserve the PMU and ensure its continuity.

On Oct. 17, Fayadh announced he is developing a framework to “preserve the PMU’s privacy,” stressing the need to “protect the PMU no matter the circumstances and to develop programs and foundations that go in line with the PMU’s ideology.”

This shows that Fayadh has his own vision for the PMU and its structure, as well as genuine concerns about its future, especially after some of its most prominent leaders took up politics and made it to parliament. This indicates that Fayadh does not speak as part of a “caretaker” government, as is the case with others in Abadi’s outgoing government.

It remains to be seen how Abdul Mahdi will deal with the security ministries in general and the PMU in particular. He will most likely be under great pressure if he suggests the PMU should form a political wing separate from its militias. Also, if he wants to replace Fayadh, he ought to choose a candidate from the Fatah Alliance, since it is affiliated with the PMU and helped him become prime minister. However, Abdul Mahdi will have to endure other pressures from the reformist blocs, which insist on “independent technocrats,” while the US administration doesn't want an ally of Iran to head the PMU, especially since many PMU militias are already pro-Iran.

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