Baghdad unity government a positive step

11 September 2014

Al-Abadi faces huge challenge to bridge sectarian divides

Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi’s formation of a new government in Iraq comes as a critical time for the country as Baghdad’s Western allies step-up operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) in the north.

By appointing Sunni and Kurdish politicians as deputy prime ministers, the new premier appears to be willing to build bridges with ethnic and religious groups largely sidelined by former leader Nouri al-Maliki.

The new, more unified cabinet also gives Washington a stronger mandate to increase its cooperation with Baghdad in its counter-offensive against Isis.

The US Secretary of State was quick to say that the “new and inclusive government has to be the engine of our global strategy against Isis”, praising its “representation from all Iraqi communities”.

However, it is unlikely many Sunni and Kurdish leaders will take such a positive stance on the new government given the extent of mismanagement under Shia former prime minister Al-Maliki.

For the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the new federal government will be under probation as Erbil continues to demand the billions of dollars it is owed in budget payments and ask for greater autonomy over oil exports.

Sunni politicians will demand more control over security in Sunni regions of the country and an end to the de-Baathification policy that has fuelled resentment of Baghdad in the north and west of Iraq.

While the US and its Nato allies can help Baghdad defeat Isis on the battlefield, resentment in Sunni communities will remain strong unless real strides are made in government to curb the sectarian policies of the past.

Post-2003, Iraq has suffered from enormous mismanagement and a lack of vision, with large swathes of the country made to feel they do not have a stake in its economic success.

While Al-Abadi appears to be reaching out to minority groups, it remains to be seen whether these difficult concessions will be made. The replacement of Al-Maliki was a popular move, but the new government has a long way to go to prove its legitimacy. Washington and its coalition partners will be hoping it can as any inflammation of the current crisis in Iraq will reverberate in the corridors of power around the world.

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