As political negotiations drag on, the big question for Iraq is who is going to be the next prime minister. Despite incumbent Haidar al-Abadi’s lacklustre election performance, he is still in the running and could yet have a second term in office. The US and other international players certainly still favour him taking up the post again.
He soured relations with Tehran somewhat this month, however, by declaring that — while he disagreed with the newly re-imposed US sanctions on Iran, which were reactivated on 7 August 2018 — he would abide by them to protect Iraq’s interests.
His comments provoked fury both among many Shi’a groups in Iraq and inside Iran itself. In response to the backlash, al-Abadi clarified his comments, asserting a few days later that he planned to abide by only part of the sanctions regime, explaining, ‘Iraq will not use the dollar in its trade with Iran’ but will trade with Iran in other currencies.
This backtracking may be insufficient to satisfy Iran, which had been looking to al-Abadi as the best compromise candidate who could deliver a Shi’a-led government that is acceptable to all. It isn’t currently clear whether Tehran will forgive him for his slip-up and continue to back his candidacy, or whether it is intent on finding another candidate who would fit the bill.
Al-Abadi may not have done enough either to convince the leader of Iraq’s Sadrist Movement, Moqtada al-Sadr, that he should be given another term in office. Although Moqtada al-Sadr still favours him taking the post, he continues to insist that the outgoing premier must leave the al-Dawa party in order to be prime minister again. So far, al-Abadi has resisted such a move and is likely to continue to do so. This is because he knows that al-Sadr doesn’t have any viable alternative as a candidate other than him.
However, any attempt to make al-Abadi prime minister again would be strongly resisted by former premier Nouri al-Maliki, who seems to be favouring Tariq Najm for the post.