Since the first days of assuming its duties, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has worked to put in place practical measures to reform the security sector in Iraq. This has made it in constant confrontation with the loyalist factions that are linked to Iran and that reject any reform process of the Iraqi security services, especially when those reforms target the existence and elements of those factions. This was demonstrated, for example, by the recent measures taken by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS), namely the deployment of a number of its members at Iraqi border crossings. While the INIS emphasised that this procedure was of a purely technical and administrative nature, the factions insisted on conferring a political dimension on it, and made of it a pretext to escalate the existing tension with the Kadhimi government.
The security approach of the Kadhimi government
The Kadhimi government has adopted a security approach that combines both the hard and soft dimensions in dealing with the loyalist factions and their presence within the Iraqi security services. The general frameworks of the said approach are as follows:
While this approach was successful in restricting the work of the loyalist factions, it faced important challenges, namely the continued possession by those factions of the capability of security provocation and threatening political stability, which prompted the Kadhimi government to accept interim balances, until the state regained its full strength, in addition to the insistence by the Shiite political blocs on assuming leadership positions in the sensitive security services, including the INIS and the National Security Services (INSS), which are run on an interim basis, as opposed to the endeavour by the Kadhimi government to exclude those positions from political considerations, specifically those related to the political actors that have tense relations with the US.
The Kadhimi government’s measures to reform the security sector
The Kadhimi government has taken many procedures and measures related to the reform of the security sector and gradually reducing the power of the loyalist factions. Those measures included the following:
Challenges to the reform of the security sector in Iraq
The efforts of the Kadhimi government to reform the security sector in Iraq face a number of challenges, the most important of which being the following:
The loyalist factions have recently tried to link the overall security reforms made by the government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi in many security sector agencies and institutions in Iraq, and to characterise those reforms as coming within the framework of a scheme to target and strike them in the future. Despite the assertion by the Kadhimi government that those reforms come within the framework of restoring the confidence of the international community in the Iraqi security services, and strengthening those services and increasing their independence, especially that Iraq continues to face Deash (ISIS) threats and other security challenges, those reform measures may lead to a confrontation between the government and the pro-Iran factions in the future, especially that those factions are not willing to give in to the collapse of the security benefits they gained after the war on Daesh.
What is certain is that such a potential confrontation would be difficult and its results unguaranteed, given that the two sides have tools of force against each other. What makes this confrontation more complicated is that its scope may go beyond the Iraqi borders, extending to Iraq’s external security environment, especially in the light of the continued tension in US-Iranian relations, and the fact that the Iraqi interior remains a potential scene for a clash between the two countries.
 Hisham al-Hashimi, Confrontation with the hybrid factions, al-Aalem al-Jadeed website, 2 July 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3tGcYp0
 Michael Knights, Kadhimi’s Rolling Reshuffle (Part 2): Protecting Iraq’s Economic Institutions and Borders, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 15 Sep 2020. https://bit.ly/3f0VXSm
 Michael Knights and Alex Almeida, Kadhimi’s Rolling Reshuffle (Part 1): Military Command Changes, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 14 Sep 2020. https://bit.ly/3r4c5Vv
 Michael Knights, Pierre Morcos and Charles Thépaut, NATO in Iraq: Not a Surge, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 Mar 2021. https://bit.ly/3s7UKMH
EPC | 14 Jul 2021
EPC | 07 Jul 2021
Firas Elias | 01 Jul 2021