This past week, new developments occurred in Iraq’s war against corruption. On Saturday, influential Shia cleric Muqtadar al-Sadar decried the pace of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform efforts and reiterated demands for reform. Specifically, al-Sadar called for the implementation of a list of reforms, including the replacement of the current administration with “…a technocrat government away from partisanship that should include all,” and the integration of Shia militias with the Iraqi army.
These comments came as al-Abadi proposed a cabinet reshuffle in light of similar pressures to drive deeper government reforms. However, the integration of militias like al-Sadr’s is more controversial, as these militias have been accused of exacerbating sectarian tensions and committing atrocities against Sunni Iraqis. Regardless, al-Sadr’s demands cannot be ignored, as the cleric has threatened massive protests if the government does not carry out reforms within the next two months.
Al-Sadr’s demands have put al-Abadi in a tough position. Many have blamed the Iraqi army’s collapse at the hands of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) on entrenched corruption within the military. This catastrophe thus helped to bring al-Abadi to power and gave him the political capital to remove eleven cabinet positions and vice-ministries he deemed superfluous. Still, current ministers have launched opposition against al-Abadi’s efforts, leading to the current stall in reforms and speculations that his own ministers might force him out of office.
Al-Sadr is also a powerful player as the latest in a line of populist Shia clerics who can call followers out into the streets to protest. To maintain his position, al-Abadi must navigate the implementation of reforms without bowing to the pressure of corrupt government insiders or sectarian forces – all while working to liberate much of his country from the forces of IS.