Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

National dialogue essential to solving Iraq's challenges, says former prime minister

Haider Al Abadi advises new cabinet to be transparent in the actions it takes

Iraq's former prime minister Haider Al Abadi. Reuters 
Iraq's former prime minister Haider Al Abadi. Reuters 

Iraq must conduct a national dialogue to help control the proliferation of weapons and to build trust between security forces and the public, former prime minister Haider Al Abadi said on Friday.

Before taking office last month, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi laid out an agenda for his cabinet that highlighted the placing of all weapons under government control. He also listed fighting corruption and the safe return of displaced people among his priorities.

“The current government must act quickly, we need a national dialogue to solve this issue, to make an agreement on how we can get rid of arms,” Mr Al Abadi said during an online briefing hosted by the Chatham House think tank in London.

He said a dialogue would bring Iraqis together to draw up a road map towards a more inclusive, stable and prosperous state.

Mr Al Kadhimi's government must build “a healthy relationship” with the security forces and must reinforce trust between the public and armed forces to move forward, said Mr Al Abadi, who served as prime minister from 2014 to 2018.

“Arms must not be used for political reasons,” he said, adding that this resulted in the intimidation of officials in Baghdad.

“This must not be allowed. This is dangerous. We can lose our country if this continues,” Mr Al Abadi said.

A agreement must be achieved between political parties on “where arms are kept, who can supervise and use them,” he said.

“I hope this can be solved with the new government.”

As prime minister, Mr Al Abadi oversaw Iraq's war against ISIS after the extremist group seized control of about a third of the country in 2014.

Iraqi government forces backed by the United States, Peshmerga fighters from Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and paramilitaries raised to fight the extremists managed to reclaim all the territory from ISIS by December 2017.

The paramilitaries, known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, were predominantly from Iraq's Shiite majority and were largely trained, armed and supervised by Iran, with many keeping close links to Tehran.

They are now officially a component of Iraq's security forces and wield great influence in politics and the economy. Some believe them to be a threat to Iraq’s security and sovereignty.

Mr Al Abadi said the new government needed to introduce accountability and transparency to succeed in its objectives.

“Not a single other country can save us. We have to save ourselves,” he said.

He advised the new prime minister to be transparent on how he intended to solve the challenges that face him.

“He must take the right choices for the benefit of the country and can only save the country by making hard decisions; safe decisions will not do much and cannot save the country,” he said.

Last October, anti-government protests led to the resignation of then prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Demonstrators were killed in their hundreds and injured in tens of thousands by security forces.

"Security is a challenge, especially with the protesters on the streets," Mr Al Abadi said. "We took a lot of effort and sacrifice in building trust between public and the security forces."

He urged the new government to "bring back self confidence of our security forces and their relationship with the people".

Mr Al Kadhimi has called for an investigation into the killing of protesters and for the release of activists and demonstrators from prison.

He took office as the protest movement made a revival, with Iraqis renewing their demands for an end to corruption and unemployment, an overhaul of the political system and the removal of the entrenched ruling elite.

Updated: May 23, 2020 01:08 PM

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