Following a successful confidence vote in Iraq’s parliament, newly elected Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi faces a multitude of looming challenges.
Foremost are the years of lawlessness on the part of pro-Iranian militias, resurgence of Daesh (ISIS), political pressures by Iranian-backed parties, demonstrations throughout the country, and oil prices at economy-crippling levels.
Aside from those aforementioned challenges, al-Kadhimi's most important leadership struggles are in the form of how, and in what order, to deal with them.
When ordering priorities, evaluating cause and effect in Iraq’s unstable and fragile state, the new prime minister should carefully evaluate precisely what contributes the most to those factors destabilizing Iraq.
Oil prices are out of al-Kadhimi's hands, but instead of going it alone, the prime minister can and should look to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United States, and Russia — seeking a joint solution on controlling production output, thus returning oil prices to profitable levels.
Here is a more in-depth look at what Iraq and al-Kadhimi face daily:
Demonstrations: Even modest improvements to the socio-economic stagnation Iraq endures would not address all issues about which the people of Iraq are demonstrating.
Those problems include an invading force, continually threatening Iraq’s sovereignty, politically — and militarily. As detailed in my Jan. 16, 2020, article, "Iraqi Protestors Want to Keep American Troops in Iraq," one of the key issues spurring protests is Iranian influence over the Iraqi political system, ongoing since October 2019.
The Iranian regime, mostly through proxies, has attempted to use snipers, knife attacks in crowds, tear gas, boiling water, and beatings to kill off key protesters in the al-Jadriyah region.
Yet, protests continue.
Pro-Iranian Militias: In March of 2018, former Prime Minister Haider al-Ebadi announced a formalizing decree allowing the inclusion of shi’ite paramilitary groups into the country’s security forces. This decree enabled the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), (who are trained and supported mostly by Iran) to have the same rights as members of the Iraq military. The decree was needed if the militias were to work with Iraqi Army, coalition forces, and federal police units requiring coalition air support.
Resurgence of ISIS: The original purpose of PMF was a call to arms under a Fatwa declaration made by the most holy of Shia in Iraq: Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
What began as a call to defend holy sites from ISIS's brutal and barbaric actions against human life and ancient sites has now become a terrorist and proxy organization for the Iranian Republic Guard Corp (IRGC) Quds Force. In the beginning, there were brigades within PMF true to the cause of defeating ISIS. These were brave martyrs who were willing to die to protect the people of Iraq and the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.
Today, the PMF includes group of thugs using political pressure to gain power in parliament. They also employ physical threats to maintain power. The most severe and unruly are Kataib Hezbollah.
In early January of this year, a decisive and successful counter-terrorism strike by U.S. President Donald Trump (see my Jan. 3, 2020, article, "Shadow Master Soleimani Plays His Last Hand") resulted in the deaths of Quds Force Commander, M.G. Qassim Soleimani, and PMF leader, Abu Muhandis. This meant the newly appointed Quds leader, Esmail Ghaani (a non-Arabic speaking, uncharismatic, and prominently Afghan/ Pakistan-focused commander) was challenged to prevent fracture within the pro-Iranian militias of the PMF.
The second and third effects of President Trump’s strike left vacuums in leadership, leaving no one to rally behind, as the terrorists did previously with Soleimani — the "Shadow Master" — at the helm.
The new PMF leader, Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi remains, trying to fill a signifcant leadership vacancy.
Since the "Shadow Master" played his last hand, the PMF has seen fracturing within its militias. Kataib Hezbollah seems to take much of its direction from Lebanese General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, while those true believers and followers of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani are breaking away from PMF altogether.
Now is the time for Iraq's Prime Minister al-Khadimi to demonstrate his leadership abilities, by protecting the constitutional rights of Iraqis under Article 38 of the 2005 Iraq Constitution (see my Feb. 25, 2020, article), while showing diplomatic charm.
He can begin with a ceremony for Hashd al-Shaabi’s sacrifices, a memorial for true martyrs, and the revocation of al-Ebadi’s official decree.
Mustafa al-Khadimi should additionally consider disbanding the Hashd al-Shaabi as an equal to Iraqi military, while enabling reintegration of its members in the army or federal police, but only after strict vetting. Such a move could ensure salaries for the former militia members, while enabling better U.S.-Iraq relations, protecting the demonstrators, and allowing Prime Minister al-Khadimi to focus on reform and economic progress ahead of upcoming elections.
Cory Mills is a highly decorated combat veteran with experience in multiple theaters of operation. He is Founder and CEO of PACEM Solutions International and PACEM Defense LLC, which acquired AMTEC Less Lethal Systems, Inc., in 2018. For most of his adult life, Cory Mills has honorably served U.S. military, diplomatic, and USAID missions. After Mr. Mills was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, he served as a subcontractor for the U.S. State Department from 2005-2010. During this time, he worked with thousands of diplomatic missions in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. Consul in Erbil. In 2016, the Republic of Iraq credited PACEM with assisting operations which led to the raising of Iraq’s flag at the Fallujah Governor’s Office for the first time in nearly three years. Prior to this, ISIS was flying the flag of the Caliph in Fallujah. Read Cory Mill's Reports — More Here.
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