Just over one year into his tenure, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made a bold move, promising to crack down on rampant corruption and streamline the government in order to increase efficiency.

There is no doubt that Iraq is in need of this kind of reform programme, but it is too early to tell whether Al-Abadi’s rhetoric will lead to concrete action that will make a difference to the lives of everyday Iraqis.

Similar reform programmes have been launched four times since the 2003 invasion and all four have failed to produce significant change.

During his first year as prime minister, Al-Abadi has used his position to raise the profile of corruption as an issue that needs to be tackled, but stopped short of taking on corrupt officials directly – and for good reason.

It is unlikely his drive to increase efficiency will be able to achieve results over the short term that will satisfy the members of the Iraqi public who have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands over the past two months demanding investigations into officials and better public services.

Since the 2003 invasion, corruption has become deeply ingrained in the political system – and dishonest officials are unlikely to give up their illicit income without a fight.

By promising protesters that he will stamp out corruption, Al-Abadi has left himself in what could be a no-win scenario.

In taking action against political opponents, he will be accused of brazenly using the crackdown as an excuse to remove his enemies from positions of power.

If he targets his allies as well as his enemies, he risks a backlash that will leave him isolated and weak.

If only a few token figures are targeted in the crackdown and no senior figures face any major repercussions, the protestors will feel betrayed and are likely to take to the streets once again.

Engineering a solution that does not undermine his own position, and with it Iraq’s political stability, is likely to be difficult to achieve.

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