BAGHDAD: Six Iraqi government ministers, including Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban and Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khatteeb, are expected to lose their jobs in a major reshuffle of the Cabinet in Baghdad.
The shake-up in Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government is part of a turf war between the US and Iran for power and influence in Iraq, which has hamstrung his attempts to form a government since he was sworn into office in October 2018, five months after bitterly contested elections.
“Iraq is the chessboard that Iran and America are wrestling on. Upcoming interrogations of ministers and dismissals are part of this wrestling,” a leading negotiator told Arab News. “Both sides have tools in Iraq and both are trying to trim each other’s nails.”
The government in Baghdad was formed last year, after months of wrangling, in a deal finally thrashed out between Reformation, the largest parliamentary bloc led by the anti-Iran Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, and Al-Binna’a, the largest pro-Iranian bloc led by Hadi Al-Amiri, head of Badr organization.
Even then, the two blocs were unable to agree on candidates for the two key security ministerial posts of defense and interior. They are now expected to be filled as part of the latest agreement.
Tension between Washington and Tehran is rising as the anniversary approaches of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions.
Iraq is at the center of that tension. On Monday the US announced deployment of an aircraft carrier strike force to the Gulf in response to an “escalated threat” from Iran. US officials did not specify the location of the threat, but are known to be concerned about the activities of Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
Against this background, the US and its allies in Iraq believe Abdul-Mahdi has moved too close to Tehran, and changes in the government to restore balance are the solution, negotiators told Arab News. The ministries involved will be oil, electricity, water resources, industry, health and communications.
“Abdul-Mahdi himself will not be toppled, no one is able to do so, but the Cabinet reshuffle will take place soon,” a key negotiator told Arab News. “The situation is serious and our discussions have focused on the importance of fortifying the internal situation.
“Iraqi and European mediators are trying to reach understandings and calm the situation between Iran and America, because we believe Iraq is in the midst of the storm and we Iraqis will pay the biggest price as a result.”