Three weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi launched his reforms, Iran is attempting to neutralize some of these steps that are in contrast to its interests in Iraq. Tehran’s initial steps are to relive former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki from the threat of judicial action. After the reforms were announced Iran’s divides with Prime Minister al-Abadi intensified over issues that were directly undermining its interests and hegemony. Prime Minister al-Abadi announced his third reform package, yet developments in Iraq show that the issue of Maliki and Iran’s support for him has placed these reforms facing many obstacles.
- Following Prime Minister al-Abadi’s announcement of the first reform package, popular demonstrations began taking shape against Maliki and the judiciary. Prime Minister al-Abadi emphasized, “There will be no hesitation in referring the cases of those whose role in corruption were proven, in whatever position they may be, in order to have fair justice served.”
- Ever since Maliki returned from his trip to Iran, the anti-Maliki and anti-Iranian regime atmosphere has increased in Iraq, and the fact that Maliki is the main target of Prime Minister al-Abadi’s reforms is gaining significance.
- Iran first dispatched Khamenei’s personal advisor Ali Akbar Velayati and a delegation to Iraq in order to relieve Maliki of Prime Minister al-Abadi’s reforms, prevent his arrest and prosecution, and warned Prime Minister al-Abadi about any changes in the structure of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
- The demands made by the demonstrators were focused on the prosecution of Maliki, sacking judiciary chief Mid’hat Mahmoud and reforming the judiciary. The finalization of Maliki has now turned into a litmus test for al-Abadi’s reforms.
- Iran’s policy in this period is to maintain Maliki in Iraq’s political spectrum and to rely on the presence of Mid’hat Mahmoud in the judiciary to prepare the grounds to acquit Maliki of his judicial allegations. Therefore, Iran has laid out various scenarios on how to gain judicial impunity for Maliki.
- The verbal dispute between Prime Minister al-Abadi and Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, being on two strategic subjects of Iran in Iraq – PMF and the Baghdad security plan – shows the distance between Prime Minister al-Abadi and Iran. It also shows that al-Abadi is not willing to budge on the case of Maliki.
- An individual in the National Security Advisor entity said Iran has planned a number of measures for Maliki. The first is to pressure Prime Minister al-Abadi to not prosecute Maliki. The second scenario is to provide a post to Maliki in the PMF to act as a pressure lever against the Prime Minister to not take action against Maliki. The third scenario is to maintain Mid’hat Mahmoud (head of the judiciary in Iraq) and elements close to Maliki in the High Judiciary Council. Considering the support provided by Iran and Maliki himself, Prime Minister al-Abadi has yet to be able to sack these elements.
- Using Hassan al-Sanid (an MP from Maliki’s State-of-Law party who went to the parliament after Maliki was appointed as vice president) is another element of Iran to gain judiciary impunity for Maliki. The plan is to have Maliki enter the parliament and replace Hassan al-Sanid, and to this end provide him judicial impunity. The Parliament has yet to accept al-Sanid’s resignation.
- al-Sanid said less than 20% of Prime Minister al-Abadi’s reforms have been actually implemented. Al-Abadi’s objective in these reforms is to force Maliki out of the political spectrum in Iraq.
- The new Baghdad security plan, being one of the subjects of disputes between Qassem Suleimani and Prime Minister al-Abadi, was to be implemented starting September 1st. This plan has been prepared under the supervision of US forces. Qassem Suleimani had told Prime Minister al-Abadi in a (Shiite coalition) National Alliance session that the new plan will force the PMF out of the spectrum.
To implement this plan only forces trained by US forces would be used to provide security in Baghdad. Currently another group of these forces are undergoing training in Fort Taji and Fort Habaniya, under the supervision of US forces. With the implementation of the new security plan, militants and PMF forces will be set aside and the security of Baghdad will be under the control of US forces.
- Iran has yet to adopt a new policy in Iraq despite its tactical and urgent plan being to stop the popular demonstrations by using assassinations and threats. Iran ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Danaie’far went to Tehran on Thursday, August 27th to take part in an emergency Iran Supreme National Security Council discussing developments in Yemen and Iraq. Danaie’far is scheduled to prepare a report on the status of reforms adopted by Prime Minister al-Abadi and Iraq’s political developments to the Council to have further decisions taken on Iran’s new policy in Iraq.
- On Friday, August 28th another emergency session of the Iran Supreme National Security Council was held in the main headquarters with Iranian political and military officials, along with a representative of Iran’s supreme leader also attending. Danaie’far, also a former senior Quds Force commander, said in this session, “Maliki remains a heavyweight in the State-of-Law coalition that is in need of the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran; However, my personal opinion is that we should not sacrifice anyone for anyone else; Mr. Maliki’s services are commendable, and Iran is loyal to his tenure as premier. However, this issue should not damage Iran’s relations with Mr. al-Abadi.”
- On Tuesday, September 1st Qassem Suleimani delivered a special speech in Iran’s Assembly of Experts. He appeared in the old building of the Islamic parliamentary council and delivered remarks for the Assembly of Experts members about regional developments, especially in Iraq and Syria.
1) Iran was caught completely off guard as Prime Minister al-Abadi announced his reforms and delivered major blows to Tehran’s interests.
2) Iran has decided to continue using Maliki as a pressure leverage against Prime Minister al-Abadi. However, supporting any figure who is under judiciary prosecution will place Iran in a quagmire.
3) Prime Minister al-Abadi has even militarily distanced himself from Iran, and is trekking a path traced by the US.
4) Following Maliki’s elimination, the PMF also being eliminated is another achievement for Prime Minister al-Abadi. Iran had strategically invested on the PMF.
5) The emergency session held by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, coming three weeks after the beginning of reforms in Iraq, shows Iran is falling behind current developments in Iraq. The presence of Iran’s ambassador to Iraq and Qassem Suleimani in the Supreme National Security Council session shows Iran’s position in Iraq has weakened tremendously and they are seeking solutions in this regard.6) It appears that in Iraq developments Iran will be using Maliki as long as it is effective for its interests. However, Tehran will not knot its strategic interests in Iraq with Maliki.