Will Iraq's prime minister fail to complete his Cabinet?

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has not been able to complete his Cabinet, despite the fact that more than two months have passed since he was appointed to the job.

al-monitor Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (C) attends the opening of the Baghdad International Fair, Iraq, Nov. 10, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani.
Mustafa Saadoun

Mustafa Saadoun


Topics covered

Iraqi elections

Dec 28, 2018

For the second time in less than two months, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has left the Iraqi parliament building without a complete Cabinet. There were hopes that he would complete the Cabinet in the first or second session, but he wasn't able to see it through.

Three months after President Barham Salih tasked him with forming the government, he still has not been able to convince the political blocs with his remaining candidates for five ministries: justice, education, interior, defense and migration.

Abdul Mahdi proposed names of ministers during two previous parliamentary sessions, but he could not get parliament’s approval of five ministers because political blocs do not agree on them. The most controversial is the Ministry of Interior since Sairoon Alliance leader Muqtada al-Sadr does not want Faleh al-Fayyad in charge of it.

Despite political disapproval of the five remaining ministers outside the parliamentary sessions, Abdul Mahdi told political blocs that he would not replace his candidates unless they were rejected in parliamentary sessions. At the same time, he asserted that he has alternative names.

Abdul Mahdi proposed several solutions to parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi to expedite the formation of the government through submitting completely or partially new names and suggesting them to Abdul Mahdi himself for approval.

Abdul Mahdi also proposed voting on the agreed-upon ministries and delaying the rest. The pending ministries would then be subject to consensus or to giving one party the right to vote and the other the right to veto.

On Dec. 22, State of Law Coalition parliament member Abdul Hadi Saadawi warned against the collapse of Abdul Mahdi’s government due to disputes between the Building Coalition led by Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri, and the Reform and Construction Coalition led by Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim.

Teacher of political science at the American University in Sulaimaniyah Akil Abbas told Al-Monitor, “Abdul Mahdi’s behavior has been disappointing, as he appeared weak and easily influenced by the bickering of political blocs. He could not take an independent decision. He also did not want to use his political leverage in this conflict over positions.”

Abbas added, “Abdul Mahdi is letting the two biggest political blocs that are fighting over ministries use up their resources and return to him eventually. He does not want to waste his energy on the issue of ministerial positions, but he would rather focus on reforms and other affairs. If he succeeds in this battle, it won’t be considered a real gain. What he really wants is to convince people that old political habits have changed and that something is cooking on the ground.”

Abdul Mahdi’s government is also facing attempts from political blocs to classify it as “illegitimate” based on Article 76 of the Iraqi Constitution.

Article 76 states that “the President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest Council of Representatives [parliamentary] bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers [Cabinet] within 15 days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.” Since Abdul Mahdi does not belong to the largest bloc, his Cabinet formation is illegitimate.

Iraqi politician Adnan al-Saraj blames the political blocs for the delay in completing the Cabinet. He says they “mishandled” Abdul Mahdi, who is “swaying with the public completely.”

The crisis that Abdul Mahdi is facing is not related to ministers who have not received the vote of confidence only, but also to the minister of youth and sports and the minister of communications. The youth and sports minister is accused of “terrorism,” while the communications minister is accused of being involved with terrorism and being a member of the Baath Party in the past. This threatens their presence in the government.

The main problem in Abdul Mahdi’s government formation is related to the ministries of interior and defense. They are expected to remain in the hands of acting ministers because the political blocs do not agree on their candidates. Abdul Mahdi threatened the political blocs, saying, “I do not mind keeping the acting ministers in charge of these two ministries,” a source close to him told Al-Monitor.

Political analyst Ibrahim al-Samidi agrees with Abbas that Abdul Mahdi is moving the crisis to the circles of political blocs. He told Al-Monitor, “By moving the crisis to the two parties [the Building Coalition and the Reform and Construction Coalition], the strength of both is drained.”

He added, “If Abdul Mahdi remained at the mercy of the consensus between these two parties, his governmental work would have suffered. He is trying to use this dispute to gain time.”

The disputes between the Reform and Construction Coalition and the Building Coalition might have Abdul Mahdi facing several options, mainly the disintegration of his government, which political blocs are warning might happen. But this might not happen, as the consensus government enjoys the support of all blocs.

Abdul Mahdi was not given the chance to choose his ministers, unlike what the political parties claimed before the government formation. This indicates that he is at the mercy of supportive and opposing political blocs. Besides, political blocs are insisting on their candidates, whom Abdul Mahdi and rival political blocs refuse.

Abbas proposes giving Abdul Mahdi six months or a year to prove himself before judging him. At the same time, if the government situation persists, it will not last for more than a year.

Abdul Mahdi has failed to convince the political blocs with his candidates. Even ministers who have been appointed face the risk of dismissal from their positions.