By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
The Council of Representatives (CoR) dismissed Sunni Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi on August 25, complicating the success of anti-ISIS operations and Sunni reconciliation efforts. The removal of Defense Minister Obeidi on the eve of strategic Mosul operations could limit the U.S.’s ability to effectively coordinate with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The ISF now lacks both a Defense and Interior Minister, who share responsibility of the security forces. Efforts to fill the defense ministry will likely further political instability within the Sunni parties, which fractured over Obeidi’s dismissal between parties supportive of Obeidi and those supportive of Sunni CoR Speaker Salim al-Juburi, an Obeidi rival. The fracture has already setback government efforts of Sunni reconciliation, a requirement for anti-ISIS operations in Iraq, and could preclude Sunni ability to present and support a nominee. This paralysis could lead to the defense ministry transferring to a candidate more aligned with Iran, which may restrict U.S. involvement in Iraq as the Mosul operation approaches.
The method by which the CoR dismissed Obeidi sets a dangerous precedence of lowering the threshold of support needed to dismiss a minister. The CoR dismissed Obeidi by a simple majority vote, despite the constitutional requirement for an absolute majority. The ruling was based on a Federal Court statement in December 2015 that qualified absolute majority as the “majority of those attending,” which is the definition of a simple majority. Under an absolute majority, the CoR needs at least 165 people to dismiss a minister, while a simple majority could require as little as 83 votes. The Reform Front, former PM Nouri al-Maliki’s support base, is consistently within reach of that minimum.
The Reform Front may attempt to similarly oust other ministers who are allies of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in order to undermine his premiership, including Kurdish Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari. The CoR questioned Zebari on August 25, after which the Reform Front announced on August 30 that they had requested a no-confidence vote. No date has yet been set for the vote. Zebari’s dismissal could collapse ongoing negotiations regarding Kurdish oil exports and have a similar effect on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, which was primarily obtained due to Zebari’s efforts. Removing Zebari, who is well-liked across the Kurdish parties, could prompt a Kurdish walk out from the Iraqi Government if they see their participation in Baghdad as futile. The political fallout between Arbil and Baghdad, two of the U.S.’s key allies, could complicate operations in Mosul and may accelerate momentum towards a Kurdish independence referendum.