by Kimberly Kagan
The power brokers leading the most lethal Iranian-backed Shi’a militias are taking actions to undermine PM Abadi’s reforms. Leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi Muhandis and leader of the Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri, visited the head of Iraq’s Judiciary, Medhat al-Mahmud. They likely aimed to ensure that Medhat cooperates with their political agenda, and their personal visit in itself – a first for Muhandis – is in itself a threat. While in office, Mahmud can be one of the strongest obstacles to PM Abadi’s reforms. The Iranian-backed militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Badr Organization, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, all have a vested interest in thwarting PM Abadi’s reforms, especially the attempt to eliminate the vice presidential positions and thereby expel VP Nouri al-Maliki, who has been aligning himself with the militias for months.
The procedure to eliminate the VP positions requires either that President Fuad Masum formally request the elimination to the CoR, which has already voted in favor, or that PM Abadi pursues constitutional reforms. The leader of another Iranian proxy group, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Qais al-Khazali, met with President Masum on August 25 in a likely attempt by the former to exert pressure on the president not to finalize the elimination of the VP posts. Masum has not yet referred the matter to the CoR.
The judiciary can undermine PM Abadi’s reforms by supporting legal and constitutional challenges to them. Maliki has proven a master in the past of presenting such challenges, and Mahmud had supported him during the premiership. Mahmud can facilitate or impede a constitutional or legal challenge. The power balance has superficially changed, however, since Maliki is no longer premier. Maliki and the militias therefore have reasons to ensure that he understands his equities sufficiently to check PM Abadi’s efforts.