Mending Iraq

Can Abadi Bridge the Country's Sectarian Divide?

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, December 3, 2014. Philippe Wojazer / Courtesy Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, once an obscure parliamentarian who had been exiled to the United Kingdom under former President Saddam Hussein, recently emerged from the shadows of the Dawa party to lead his country out of the most threatening security and political crisis it has seen since 2003. He was formally appointed to office on September 8, inheriting a country that was essentially in ruins. A third of Iraq had fallen to the Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city; the Kurds had moved to take oil-rich Kirkuk and threatened to secede; and the Shia were bracing for further ISIS advances.

Although Abadi was an untested leader, his initial appointment solicited broad domestic and international approval because of his promise, as a Shia, to balance the conflicting interests of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian groups: Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds. Abadi also had a reputation in the parliament as a conciliatory and solution-oriented leader. To be fair, some of the premature fanfare around Abadi might have actually stemmed from the collective relief that his divisive predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, was finally departing. In his first two terms, Maliki had alienated the Sunnis and Kurds, as well as the Gulf states and Turkey, with his tunnel-vision plan to consolidate power for his Shia faction.

But Abadi has not disappointed in his first hundred days in office, even if he will be severely tested by the onerous challenges that lie ahead.


A defining moment of Abadi’s first few months as prime minister was easing the long standoff between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan over oil wealth sharing and finally offering support to the Kurdish military forces, known as the peshmerga, which had been sorely neglected under Maliki. Under a new agreement forged in mid-December, Baghdad will pay the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) half of all revenue generated from Kurdish-controlled oil fields. It will also fund the peshmerga and allow the United States to arm

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