Following popular demonstrations in late February across Baghdad’s Green Zone, the Iranian regime became extremely concerned of the Iraqi people’s demands for reform. Through its operatives in Iraq Tehran went to great limits divert the reform project. The issue of corruption under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and setting aside judiciary chief Mid’hat Mahmoud were the pillar concerns for Iran, leading the regime to continue its attempts to stonewall all measures to establish a technocrat cabinet, place the reform project before various dilemmas and buy time for its own conspiracies in Iraq. The goal pursued by Tehran was to kick the can down the road and prevent any formation of a technocrat cabinet – specifically demanded by the people – and return to the sectarian-polarized quota cabinet based on agreements made between ruling parties.
Through its ambassador in Iraq, Danaie-Far, Iran called on Maliki to highlight the demand of setting aside three senior government leaders to thus divert the pressure from voting on a proposed cabinet to dissolving the parliament, setting aside the parliament and prime minister. To this end Tehran sought to have the technocrat cabinet mantra completely forgotten and make it a matter of history. For this very objective, Maliki held a meeting on April 12th with a number of his associated MPs in an attempt to convince other MPs and gather signatures to provide a legal cover for his campaign of setting aside leaders of the three senior officials and branches.
Iran’s ambassador in Iraq had time and again warned Maliki and his inner circle that adopting a technocrat cabinet will pave the path for changes in the judiciary and opening dossiers related to corruption, and Mid’hat Mahmoud and Maliki will not be exemplified in this regard. Therefore, they must use all their means to prevent any reforms and no slate of minister candidates proposed by the government to the parliament should be accepted. This will lead to an “agreed” cabinet to resolve the threats facing the future of the judiciary and Maliki.
Iranian regime officials in their meetings with Maliki have suggested he should refrain from publicly oppose the reform project as this would erupt popular dissent and reactions. However, to stonewall the reform initiative, Maliki should show himself to be apparently in line with the reform project. On April 13th Maliki launched a demonstration in Baghdad organized by the State of Law, Dawa Party and Asaeb Ahl al-Haq. Playing the main role in this demonstration, Maliki took advantage of the wave of popular protests and under the pretext of people’s demands he called for setting aside the three senior government officials. He raised this demand in the demonstrations and through the protesting MPs in the parliament.
Despite the fact that the second list of al-Abadi’s proposed cabinet was an agreed slate of candidates prepared by political factions, Iran once again through its envoy in Iraq completely opposed the initiative. Iran assessed the “Islamic Republic of Iraq” will have no place in the parliament and will effectively be eliminated from Iraq’s political spectrum.
To divert the project seeking to reshape the cabinet that was against Iran’s interests in Iraq, Revolutionary Guards Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani visited Iraq on March 30th to meet with all Shiite coalition leaders and convince them not to vote for any slate other the agreed slate.
In his meetings Suleimani called on Shiite leaders that considering the widespread popular support of Sadr’s measures, they must be very careful in their political positions to not portray the Shiite coalition as against the reforms.
In a meeting with Maliki and a number of senior Shiite leaders in Jaderiya, Suleimani said the technocrat cabinet slate presented to the parliament effectively means Iran having no influence in the future Iraqi cabinet, and such a cabinet must not obtain a vote of approval in the parliament. He called on senior Shiite coalition leaders to resort to different methods to prevent the adoption of this slate by the parliament.
Suleimani, accompanied by senior Quds Force commander Iraj Masjedi, attempted to inform senior Shiite coalition leaders of the threats of a technocrat cabinet coming to power in Iraq. Suleimani, however, saw his efforts failing in Iraq and returned to Iran empty-handed. Masjedi continued his drive to obtain an agreement of the cabinet shuffling to include only three or four ministries. However, his efforts were also futile.
The policy Iran is pursuing through various political trends in the Shiite coalition is to first buy time, prevent the adoption of a cabinet slate proposed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and impose so many changes in the proposed slate of ministers to effectively delay this process for a very long time and eventually have it completely forgotten. Suleimani emphasized to Maliki and his inner circle that if talks, negotiations and an agreement with other political factions fail to prevent the adoption of a technocrat cabinet, they must plunge Iraq into newer crises to sideline the technocrat cabinet bid.