Image 1 of 11: The low-key but high-brow Abadi was born of a respected Shiite family but lived in exile in the UK for decades. He was a vehement critic of Saddam Hussein, who executed 2 of his brothers and cancelled Abadi’s Iraqi passport. In exile Abadi got a doctorate in 'rapid transit' (Baghdad to Basra bullet train anyone?) and ran a cafe and design firm.
Image 1 of 11: After the 2003 invasion, Abadi returned to Baghdad and, as a Dawa activist and Saddam critic, naturally entered politics. He was minister of communications, Maliki’s key advisor (and bestie!) and just 2 weeks ago became the Parliamentary Deputy Speaker. Now though, all love is lost as the world rains praises on Abadi as Maliki’s replacement.
Image 1 of 11: Abadi isn’t the only friend Maliki lost; much of Iraq, and indeed the world, have criticized Maliki for inflaming sectarian division and losing large swathes of Iraq to IS. The recently elected (but largely ceremonial) President Fuad Masum had until August 10th to chose his PM from the largest parliamentary bloc, and nominated Abadi over Maliki.
Image 1 of 11: Hell hath no fury like Maliki scorned. Maliki reacted by sending tanks into Baghdad and locking down the airport. Whilst the Iraqi military say they belong to Iraq, not Maliki, there are rumors of a coup. Maliki went live on TV at midnight, refusing to resign and accused Masum of constitutional violation, for which he will file a legal complaint.
Image 1 of 11: So it’s Maliki vs. Abadi, round 1, and the now bitter frenemies are being weighed up. Due to Maliki’s marginalization of minorities, Abadi enjoys broader political support, especially with Kurds and Sunnis. Abadi’s seen as the better mediator and with his breeding, commands more respect locally than Maliki’s humble origins.
Image 1 of 11: In Maliki vs. Abadi, round 2, Abadi must unite not just Sunnis and Kurds, but his Shiites with the Shiites loyal to Maliki. Abadi is in his own version of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” because unification “without Maliki, it isn’t going to be easy...But with Maliki, it will be impossible” (Hayder al-Khoei, Chatham House).
Image 1 of 11: Regionally, Abadi must watch Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan who’s nervous about fortified Iraqi Kurds influencing separatist Turkish Kurds. Abadi is also equally pro-Iran and U.S., at least for air force support against IS. With Iran open to working with the U.S., who knows, maybe Abadi will unite not just Iraqis but Iran and the U.S. also.
Image 1 of 11: While international support for Maliki has dried up (U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Maliki to “not stir those waters”), support for Abadi is flowing like a river! Political figures in the UN, U.S. and UK have all lined up to give support whilst France’s Foreign Minister even wanted colleagues recalled from holidays to discuss Iraq.
Image 1 of 11: With IS earning money from selling oil (from Syrian lands) to Syrian President Assad, will Abadi soon need to buy his own oil also? While Abadi’s “careful not to become involved in a sectarian war” that will only divide Iraq and strengthen IS, he is inheriting a serious problem that many think can only be solved with Obama’s help.
Image 1 of 11: In the short term, if Abadi supports Kurdish armament against IS but fails to achieve unity, the long-term result may be déjà vu. Some worry that the U.S. arming the Kurds now will strengthen separatist violence once IS is gone, thus sowing the seeds of dispute over lands under Kurdish control that were previously guarded by the national army.
Image 1 of 11: Long-term, Abadi will not carve up Iraq by minorities: "It may be… easy on the map. On the ground it will lead to disaster and catastrophe" with ethnic cleansing. It may also draw Turkey and Iran in to stop IS advances. President Masum said “now the Iraqi people are in your [Abadi’s] hands”, we say his hands hold more than just the Iraqis.
As the U.S. sends more airstrikes in the north in Iraq against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), otherwise known as the Islamic State (IS), another war is brewing in Baghdad between ousted Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki, current President Fuad Masum, and a man eyeing the now-available position as Iraq’s new leader.
Until two days ago, Haider al-Abadi wasn’t really making headlines.
A former communications minister and advisor to Maliki himself, Haider al-Abadi arrived quietly in Iraqi politics in 2005 after spending the last several decades exiled by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Now he’s the internationally favored replacement for Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.
Meanwhile, a jilted Maliki says he plans to sue Iraqi President Fuad Masum for the “unconstitutional” nomination. Some believe Maliki is plotting a coup, and indeed he has sent the military to seal off Baghdad’s ‘green zone’ and the airport.
So will Maliki’s military might beat out the international favorite Abadi? Or will President Obama’s outspoken support ensure Abadi not only forms government, but has the resources to fight IS?
Regardless, once the IS threat is gone, if whoever is prime minister has not unified Iraq, they may well have to deal with U.S. armed Kurdish peshmerga forces — with the intention and capability to fight for independence from Iraq.
So in Iraq’s match of the year, Maliki vs. Abadi, who can unify Iraq better? Read on to find out about the unknown Abadi, his chances against Maliki and what he faces in his fight to unify Iraq and ward off IS.