MESOP Warning: Iraq’s Shi’a Parties Split Over Cabinet Reshuffle Amidst Protests

By Patrick Martin with Emily Anagnostos, Rachel Bessette &  Hannah Werman

25 March 2016 – Key Take-away: Political violence may erupt in Iraq as supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr continue large-scale protests to pressure the current government to reshuffle the cabinet fundamentally. Sadr had threatened on February 26 to withdraw his support from Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi if such an overhaul did not occur by March 29, 2016. The Sadrists began a large sit-in at the entrance to the Green Zone on March 18 and are harnessing the power of street demonstrations to either compel PM Abadi to comply or make it possible for him to do so.

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his supporters within the State of Law Alliance (SLA), rather than Abadi, seem to be the chief obstacle to a cabinet reshuffle. Other political blocs seek to neutralize this faction while retaining their current representation in cabinet. Meanwhile, some political blocs, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrist Trend, are in the process of attempting to create a new political alliance that could challenge Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) as the dominant political bloc. It would need to overcome a plethora of obstacles to succeed, but could be the basis for a cabinet reshuffle process aimed at weakening the SLA and its dominant leader, Nouri al-Maliki. ISCI and the Sadrists may throw a lifeline to Abadi, or he may be political collateral damage in their play to counter Maliki. It is unclear what Sadr will do if there is no cabinet reshuffle by March 29 that meets his standards. He may compromise, as he might sacrifice some of his reform demands in order to strengthen himself or weaken Maliki and his Dawa Party. Alternatively, the Sadrists may continue the sit-in and pull out of the government, as Sadr threatened to do on February 13. The prospect for violence – initiated either by the demonstrators or by the security forces to break up the sit-in – remains a possibility that could destabilize or even collapse the already precarious Abadi government, and it is far from certain that PM Abadi will be able to retain his position if a new government is eventually formed.