15 Feb 2016 – By Patrick Martin (ISW) – Key Take-Away: Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced a major cabinet reshuffle on February 9 in an attempt to reform his government. Political blocs are unlikely to tolerate losing control over their ministries, however, and could unite to override the prime minster if he attempts to undercut them. Shi’a religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who formerly backed the prime minister’s reforms, has ceased to give political sermons, depriving PM Abadi of his public backing.
Meanwhile, PM Abadi’s political opponents and Iranian proxy militias have escalated their efforts to restrict his powers over the past month. PM Abadi’s survival in office may be tenuous at best, and there is a possibility that the cabinet reshuffle could backfire against him, weakening him further or leading to his removal. Actors who previously supported PM Abadi’s reform programs may consider ousting him in the event of non-implementation of the reform agenda. Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who previously expressed strong support for PM Abadi’s reforms, gave him only 45 days to implement wide-ranging reforms, threatening to “withdraw confidence within the Council of Representatives” in the event of failure. PM Abadi’s weakening and possible removal would strike a serious blow to the U.S.’s ability to support the ISF in the fight against ISIS in Iraq, as it is likely that a pro-Iranian – and anti-Coalition – political figure would secure the premiership.