In its first 100 days in office, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani has already left warning signs about what might lie ahead for the country. Although it is still in its early days, government actions have largely strayed from the promises Sudani made before taking office and resulted in setbacks for Iraq’s economy, security, sovereignty, and human rights. The situation deserves the attention of observers and stakeholders, who should keep a close eye on what follows and consider adjusting their approach to the administration.
Sudani’s appointment last October completed the takeover of Iraq’s government by the Iran-backed alliance of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the militia-supported Fatah Coalition. In the October 2021 election, these two factions won a mere 51 seats in parliament — just 15% of the legislature’s 329 seats. Joined by political actors who also performed poorly, like Ammar al-Hakim and Haider al-Abadi, the resulting Coordination Framework (CF) frustrated the efforts of the winners of the election, the Sadrists, to form a majority government that would have marginalized them.
While the CF’s political and legal maneuvers unfolded throughout 2022, the militias that make up the group’s backbone rocketed and intimidated the main Sunni and Kurdish seat-winners, who had initially aligned themselves with Muqtada al-Sadr, to force them to cooperate. To preserve their interests, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and the Kurdistan Democratic Party eventually acquiesced to the CF’s demand to join a government in which the Framework holds the uncontested upper hand. The outcome was an unsustainable deal that is already at risk of breaking down as the CF works to assert its dominance by cutting funds to the Kurdish region. Government by coercion is neither normal nor acceptable, and should be treated accordingly. To be clear, a government dominated by Sadr would have been highly problematic for Iraq too, but it didn’t come to be.
As the new prime minister took office last October, there was some merit to giving his government time to prove itself before making judgments. Unfortunately, in his first 100 days, Sudani has consistently put the interests of his benefactors ahead of those of the public.
To put Iraq’s injured democratic process back on track following the tumultuous aftermath of the October 2021 election, the government program promised to review and update election laws within three months to prepare for new elections within a year. The government was formed on the premise that it was another stopgap whose main task was to get Iraq past the anomalous legislative and political situation created by the departure of 73 Sadrist lawmakers from parliament. Within weeks, though, it became clear that Sudani’s main backers — Maliki and the Fatah Coalition — were not interested in holding early elections and were determined to remain in power by keeping Sudani in office for a full four-year term.