In this piece I would like to evaluate the volume of Iran’s meddling and its influence on the policies of the Iraqi government and reforms launched by Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi.
Following Prime Minister al-Abadi’s August 9th announcement of these reforms against corruption, popular demonstrations gained strength day by day with people chanting for the prosecution of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and sacking judiciary chief Mid’hat Mahmoud.
In his first public comments since the measures were announced, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called judicial reform "one of the most important aspects of the reform process".
"It is not possible to achieve true reform without it. Even if corruption has spread to the judiciary, there is no small number of honest judges whose hands have not been tainted and will not hesitate to achieve justice," his spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, said in a Friday sermon on August 14th. Despite the fact that the Marjaiya (Shiite religious leadership) was backing reforms in the judiciary and demonstrators were focusing their demands on the sacking of Mid’hat Mahmoud, during this period Iran’s efforts were concentrated on backing Mahmoud in order to relieve Maliki of any prosecution, and thus preventing the evaluation of his dossiers in the Iraqi court system.
1. A few days the Najaf Marjaiya called for judiciary reforms, Prime Minister al-Abadi said changes in the judiciary are not under his authority and this issue has to be weighed out in the Iraqi Parliament, throwing the ball into the legislative body’s court. Afterwards, he conditioned a number of reforms on the constitution, and went on to adopt a dual-faced policy regarding the judiciary reforms. This was against the will of the Marjaiya and the demonstrators.
2. Prime Minister al-Abadi had continuously supported the demonstrations, whereas the protesters were no longer just demanding water and electricity, but rather focusing on the prosecution of Maliki, sacking Mahmoud and reforming the judiciary system.
3. Iran intends to pave the path for Maliki’s acquaintance from any and all charges by maintaining Mahmoud at his post as the judiciary chief. Therefore, Tehran has prepared for various scenarios to gain judicial impunity for Maliki.
4. A national security advisor in Iran has said, “Maintaining Mid’hat Mahmoud and elements close to Maliki in the Supreme Judiciary Council is one of Iran’s goals, and with support provided by Tehran and Maliki himself al-Abadi has not been able to sack these elements.”
5. Despite the fact that nearly a month has passed from the remarks delivered by the spokesman of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the necessity of reforms in the judiciary, Prime Minister al-Abadi has so far taken no practical measures in this regard, and the judiciary is busy with its normal procedures, constantly issuing statements and records of its activities during the past five years, and/or actions scheduled to be taken in the future. This has effectively allowed the judiciary to step aside and relieve itself from the reforms.
6. There is no mentioning of reforms in the judiciary in any of Prime Minister al-Abadi’s reform packages or his agenda to implement these changes. In mid-August Mahmoud announced his retirement in a Supreme Judiciary Council session, which was not accepted. The judiciary then took very limited steps showing they are merely bypassing the reforms.
7. Mohseni Ejhe’i, the spokesman of Iran’s judiciary said in an interview, “The reform plan launched by Mr. al-Abadi includes the head of Iraq’s judiciary branch. I call on the Foreign Ministry and Quds Force to begin talks and negotiations to prevent any change regarding the head of Iraq’s judiciary branch… as we were told Mr. al-Abadi has sent a message to Mad’hat Mahmoud saying he should resign from his post as head of the judiciary, or else he will take measures to have him relieved. This message led to the head of the judiciary presenting his request for retirement to the Iraqi government’s High Judiciary Council.”
8. A member of the Quds Force in Iraq made the following remarks on Mahmoud’s sacking: “Fortunately al-Abadi’s measures to sack the Iraqi judiciary chief ended in defeat with the support provided by Iran, and he failed in sacking Mr. Mahmoud. However, he continues to pressure [Mahmoud] through the attorney general to launch into process the dossiers on Maliki and Mutlak.”
9. Iran attempted to gain a type of approval from the Marjaiya to maintain Mahmoud in his position. To this end Karbala Appeals Court chief Mohamed Abdul-Hamze said after his meeting with Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, the spokesman of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that the Marjaiya is not seeking any reforms in the judiciary and sent its salutations to Mid’hat Mahmoud. The office of Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai denied these claims and made clear that the changes in the judiciary are an important pillar in completing the overall reforms package.
10. Dana’i Far, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, has to this day met with Mahmoud once and twice with Badr militia chief Hadi al-Ameri, all with the objectives of maintaining Mahmoud in his position.
11. Hadi al-Ameri also went to meet Mahmoud in late August along with Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes and Ahmed al-Assadi, the official spokesman of the Popular Mobilization Forces, to assure that the PMF are behind him. A member of the Iraqi National Security Advisory said regarding this meeting, “In his discussions with Mahmoud, al-Ameri said the series of reforms announced by al-Abadi are formalistic. To dampen the popular protests it is necessary for the judiciary to continuously issue judiciary reform statements to depict itself in line with al-Abadi’s reforms.”
12. PMF spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi issued a statement after this meeting and said, “Our meeting with the judiciary apparatus was aimed at announcing Iran’s support against hardliners who seek to annihilate this entity, undermine its entirety and also challenge all the previously issued judiciary orders.”
1. Supporting Maliki, who has seen charges filed against him, has left Iran facing a serious impasse. Therefore, Tehran is attempting to maintain Mid’hat Mahmoud in his position.
2. Iran’s policy in backing Mahmoud is aimed at providing the grounds to acquit Maliki from the judicial charges raised against him. Maliki’s files surfacing is by no means in Iran’s interest and completely against its policy in Iraq.
3. Al-Abadi was very careful from the beginning regarding the judiciary reforms, showing that he is under intense pressure on this subject due to the various leverages used by Iran.
4. On the issue of judiciary reforms al-Abadi is literally jammed between pressures imposed by the Marjaiya and protesters on one hand, and Iran on the other. Developments in the future will show how far al-Abadi is vulnerable to Iran’s influence, or to what extent will he trek in line with the demonstrators.