At the end of his European tour, during which he visited France, Germany and Britain — he is a British citizen, remember — Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said, "I dance on a daily basis with the snakes but I am looking for a flute to control them." According to the Guardian, he warned that he is being forced into "an impossible balancing act between the US and Iran," referring to the heavy burden he has inherited since becoming prime minister after Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned. Possible candidates Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan Al-Zurfi had failed to win the confidence of the political parties enough to form a government after Abdul-Mahdi stepped down due to the Iraqi demonstrations that began a year ago in Baghdad and several other cities in the south.
Kadhimi described the situation well when he said that he dances with snakes daily, but did he not know that this would be the case when he accepted the premiership? Did he not know the complexity of the issues awaiting him given that he was responsible for the Iraqi intelligence services from 2016? Why has he waited before revealing to the Iraqi people that the situation is complicated and so they shouldn't expect too much from him?
Since taking over the government in May, Kadhimi has suggested that he is moving with great caution so that confrontations do not take place between the state and parallel Iraqi forces. He has failed to convince us that he is able to play the role, as in many cases he has left the parallel forces —militias and political groups controlling the scene in Iraq — to do whatever they like. The assassination of researcher Hisham Al-Hashimi and the Farhatiya massacre in the Salaheddin province are examples of this. Kadhimi vowed to find Al-Hashimi's killers and prosecute them within a few days; likewise for those behind the massacre, but he did not keep his promises. He also failed to contain the Katyusha cells attacking the US Embassy every night. If it wasn't for international intervention and negotiations with the leaders of these cells, which ended in an Iran-US agreement to stop the attacks temporarily, they would have continued. Does Kadhimi really have to tell us that he is dancing with snakes and that he needs a flute to control them?
The situation in Iraq is complicated and suffering from the 17-year legacy of a political process custom made by the US occupation for those appointed by Washington to run the country. It also suffers from chaos, corruption, unchecked Iran-backed militias, a lack of public services, unemployment, a shortage of financial liquidity and many other crises that Kadhimi does not seem able to deal with.
He accepted the difficult job, though, so he must address some of the more urgent issues. While he does not want to disarm the militias and those who are influencing state institutions because he does not want a confrontation — which he knows will result in his removal — he does not want to give them a free rein, despite telling the Guardian that "1,000 years of discussion is better than one moment of exchange of fire."
Kadhimi's missing flute could be the will of the Iraqi people, who forced his predecessor's dismissal and are today an effective movement in Iraqi politics which simply cannot be ignored. He has to wake up to the fact that he is prime minister with a lot of international support for his government, and then use this well to deal with many files firmly and confidently. At the moment, even if he doesn't know it, he has the only flute that he needs, so he should not simply ignore the complications and pretend that he cannot control the snakes around him.
However, a review of Kadhimi's speeches reveals that his ceiling of expectation is becoming lower on every occasion. On Saturday, he said that the main task for his government is to hold the elections that he scheduled for June next year in an open and fair manner undisturbed by those wielding weapons in Iraq. He did not mention his previous promises to prosecute the people who killed the demonstrators and the men in Farhatiya, or even reveal those who killed several of Iraq's best in the past few months.
Talking about the elections is an attempt to skip over the many pressing files that affect everyone in Iraq and escape to the future simply because the prime minister has found himself surrounded by many portfolios, the easiest of which is complicated. It looks as if he has neither the ability nor the experience to deal with them. This could make him a tool of the armed factions which control the economy and politics in Iraq and use them to serve foreign interests. Kadhimi must open his eyes to see the elusive flute, and soon, so that he can control the many snakes in Iraq.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 26 October 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.