BAGHDAD –Iraqi political and popular forces opposed to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi are working to pressure the government in Parliament and on the street, with the aim of bringing it down. According to some sources, this summer’s confrontations are expected to be quite heated.
The anti-Kadhimi political forces belong to Iran’s close allies in Iraq.
Informed sources in Baghdad said leaders of the Fatah Alliance, the second largest parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi parliament, have had contacts with the leader of the State of Law Coalition Nuri al-Maliki to discuss the future of the Kadhimi government and the possibility of its dismissal in parliament before it could sign binding long-term agreements with the United States, in the context of the dialogue that was set off between the two countries weeks ago.
Because Kadhimi’s government enjoys the backing of two important Shia blocs, one led by Muqtatda al-Sadr and one led by Ammar al-Hakim, Kadhimi’s opponents know that they do not muster enough clout in parliament to bring it down.
Al-Sadr has yet to clarify his final and genuine stance towards al-Kadhimi, and this is why his bloc, Saeroun, is still sending contradictory signals about the government.
Al-Hakim, however, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Kadhimi and his government. He had already taken the initiative to provide political cover for the current government by forming a parliamentary bloc comprising more than 40 MPs all in favour of Kadhimi and his government.
Pro-Iran Shia forces have also to contend with Sunni and Kurdish acceptance of Kadhimi and his government. So, in order to reach their goal, they seem to have decided to experiment with a mixture of different currents in the popular movements that might end up tipping the positions of other political forces towards their project.
The popular mixture targeted by the pro-Iran forces consists of the remnants of the October protests plus recent groups of protesters. The remnant protesters of the October uprising are groups in Baghdad and the provinces that still insist on continuing the protests that began in 2019, despite the major political changes that were introduced because of them. The new protesters are specific groups of individuals recently affected by government decisions aimed at financial reform.
For the past 15 years or so, many large segments of Iraqi society have been benefiting from special privileges and government largesse under the pretext of their involvement in opposing Saddam Hussein’s regime. But these privileges have created feelings of resentment and discrimination among popular circles as they saw one class being enriched at the expense of other classes.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi wearing a protective face mask speaks during a meeting with military officials, in Diyala province, Iraq July 11, 2020. (REUTERS)
Kadhimi and his government took office amid the dreadful economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices. Drastic austerity measures had to be taken and the government decided to scrap the financial and other material privileges that thousands of Iraqis had enjoyed over several years. Naturally, these measures angered the affected individuals.
Observers said that Iran’s allies are working to combine the die-hard protesters of the October 2019 demonstrations with those affected by the recent financial reform decision. The goal is to form a popular protest current demanding the fall of Kadhimi’s government, while riding the usual wave of summer protests ignited by electricity shortages as summer temperatures soar to 50°C.
Pro-Iranian Shia parties are hoping that the electricity street protests may entice Muqtada al-Sadr to join their ranks, since the latter’s supporters do seem to enjoy a good confrontation with the riot police now and then.
If the plot succeeds, many political forces will follow suit and abandon Kadhimi. The latter, being aware of the plot, has been moving on all fronts to abort this plan.
On Monday, Kadhimi ordered the suspension of pending energy projects and directed the Ministry of Oil to distribute fuel free of charge to private sector electricity power plants, a measure that may have a quick cooling effect.
The electricity power grid in Iraq was completely shattered during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since then, the country has been suffering from a severe shortage of electricity. As a remedy, the government encouraged setting up local private sector electricity generating stations which would sell electricity directly to consumers.
Over the past years, these private power plants have contributed 50% of the electricity consumed in Iraq.
During the past two weeks, electricity output of public power plants dropped sharply, coinciding with a particularly blistering heat wave across the country. Temperatures soared to 50°C in many Iraqi cities, placing private sector power plants under tremendous pressure.
Always within the context of pre-empting public anger, Kadhimi was in Karbala on Tuesday, where he inaugurated a number of service projects.
“The past periods saw billions of dollars spent on the electricity sector; it was plenty sufficient to build a modern electrical grid, but corruption, financial waste and mismanagement were all factors that undermined solving the electricity crisis in Iraq. The result is worsening citizens’ suffering in summer,” the Prime Minister said.
He viciously attacked the government of his predecessor, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, for not implementing “the maintenance projects devoted to the electricity sector, and that has exacerbated the problem, especially in these tough economic conditions for Iraq due to the collapse of oil prices globally as a result of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As a relief measure, Kadhimi directed the Ministry of Oil “to provide fuel free of charge to the owners of private electricity generators, in exchange for lower electricity prices and increased supply hours.”
Observers said that the Iran allies’ strategy of focusing on igniting popular anger in Baghdad specifically aims at keeping the Prime Minister busy with the protests and consequently divert his attention and efforts from pursuing Shia militias involved in theft, extortion, kidnapping, weapons and drugs smuggling, and participating in armed conflicts abroad.
They also expect that the coming confrontations will have consequences for the Iraqi government’s approach to building a future partnership with the United States.
Kadhimi has plans to visit Washington soon, in preparation for the second round of dialogue between the two countries, which opened last month via closed-circuit television.