Iraqi elections: Is Moqtada al-Sadr leading his country to a different future?

Date & time : Sunday, 27 May 2018

The unexpectedly poor showing of Haider Al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, in parliamentary elections has dealt a blow to US influence in the country. It was a poor return on the American backing for the Baghdad government’s drive to extirpate Islamic State and regain lost territory.

But the bigger loser may be Iran, whose allies in Iraq’s Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces were pushed into second place by Moqtada al-Sadr, the veteran nationalist. Put simply, Sadr believes Iraqis are the ones whoshould run Iraqi affairs – not Washington, Tehran and their proxies.

The pressing question now, for Iraqis and the wider Arab world, is whether the election marks the high watermark of Iranian influence that has grown steadily across the region since the 2003 US invasion. Recent events have blown large holes in the prevailing narrative of an inexorable Iranian advance. In short, have we reached “peak Iran”?[1]

Evidence that the tide may be turning emerged last week after Donald Trump, in effect, tore up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

Tehran’s fractured leadership seemed caught off-guard by the full force of the US president’s denunciation. It has failed so far to articulate a clear response.

Although European signatories will this week tell Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, they are determined to uphold the pact, this seems an empty promise. Faced with swingeing US treasury sanctions, private companies doing business in Iran will mostly walk away. France, Germany or the EU can do little to stop them.

By its relative silence, the UK – caught as ever between Washington and Europe – is already acknowledging this reality. Nor can Iran rely on Russia or China, also signatories to the deal, to bail it out. To fund its inefficient state-dominated economy, its ongoing interventions in Syria and Yemen and, for example, its ballistic missile programme, Iran needs the billions of dollars accruing from oil exports. This cash flow is in serious jeopardy[2].

Muqtada al-Sadr’s plans in the elections:

The election results indicate that the Sadrist leader has successfully built a series of political alliances, with the support of a significant number of Shiites and Iraqis willing to ease the consequences of the economic crisis, liberals, intellectuals, leftists and elite Sunni businessmen[3].

During his meeting with some leaders of other political blocs, Moqtada al-Sadr, repeated his post-election positions that his goal was to bring professional technocrats, not party loyalists, to key positions in government to form governing institutions that serve people, not political forces.

In order to know the most important reasons why the coalition won the largest number of seats in the elections in Iraq, we must know who Muqtada al-Sadr is and who formed this alliance and support. Al-Sadrhas great influence in Iraq, which was evident after the US invasion of the country in 2003, The MahdiArmy loyal to Sadr fought battles against US forces in Al-Najaf, Kut and other Iraqi cities. The Mahdi Army was also accused of kidnappings, killings and torture during the sectarian clashes in Iraq, which peaked in 2006 and 2007.

Sadr disappeared from sight in 2006 after traveling to Iran following an arrest warrant against him issued that year. Sadr ordered the dissolution of the Mahdi Army in August 2008, after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki led a military campaign against the militia that ended in Basra in March 2008. But Sadr reconciled with Maliki later, and was credited for Maliki’s second term in 2010.

The Sadrist movement is part of Maliki’s government and has won several ministerial portfolios after the 2010 elections. After demonstrations in the western province of Anbar against the Nuri al-Maliki government in 2013, Sadr called on his supporters to support the protests against al-Maliki as long as they were peaceful.

 

– Will Muqtada al-Sadr’s government be a technocratic or political one?[4]

“The next government will be a government of technocrats,” Muqtada al-Sadr said, adding that there would not be a “match of Attar.” In spite of the optimism shown by Moqtada al-Sadr, on the possibility of a quick formation of the next Iraqi government, or for the coalition that will form that government, the previous experience indicates that it is not an easy process, and usually lead the winning blocs in the Iraqi elections, to lengthy negotiations, to form a majority government, at a time does not exclude that the rival blocs are starting to form alliance (s) for their part.

Al-Sadr said after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, that the door is open to all blocs and political alliances to participate in the new government without exclusion of anyone,at a time when observers believe that the alliance between Abadi and Sadr to form the next government is almost certain.

In a previous chant, Al-Sadr had hinted to the lists, which he prefer toalliance with them to form the next government, the most prominent of which are Al-Nasr (Victory) Alliance, led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, and  Tayar al-Hikmah al-Watan (The National Wisdom Movement) partyheaded by Ammar al-Hakim, and Al-Wataniya (The National) Alliance led by Ayad Allawi. Sadr’s bid didn’t includeHadi al-Amiri’s bloc A-Fatah, and Dawlat al-Qānūn (State of La) alliance led by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.[5]

Amidst the talk of political coalitions in Baghdad, Iraqis’ hopes seem to hang on a new government different from its predecessors, dealing with corruption files that have accumulated over the years and graduating Iraqis from sectarianism that has dominated their country for years.

 Al-Sadr repeated more than once that the upcoming government is expected to be a one that will take the fight against corruption and work on files that concern the lives of citizens.

In all this, one thing that can’t be overlooked is the impact of regional and international polarization on the form of the government expected in Iraq, as the tension between Iran and the United States is nowexpected to bound to cast a shadow on the Iranian interest, through the permanence of Tehran’s closest allies in the next government, while Washington is also seeking to influence the alliances that will form such a government.

 

Saudi Arabia and Iran in the mind of the leader Moqtada al-Sadr[6]:

Al-Sadr, one of a handful of Iraqi Shiite leaders, has kept a distance with Iran. Last year, he called on the Iraqi government to dismantle the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which played an important role in the fight against militants of a pro-Syrian group. A historic heroic decision “to step down, to spare his country more bloodshed, and is now seen as a prominent leader leading mass protests after calling his supporters to the protests in Tahrir Square in Baghdad against the” corruption of the Iraqi government “His supporters participated in large demonstrations in Baghdad, demanding the amendment of election law[7].

Last year, al-Sadr visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where he met senior government officials, led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Sadr sees that Iraq must return to the Arab embrace.

“We were very pleased with what we found to be a positive breakthrough in the Saudi-Iraqi relations, and we hope it is the beginning of the retreat and the retreat of sectarian strife in the Arab-Islamic region,” Sadr said in a statement on his last visit to Saudi Arabia last year.

It was the first visit by al-Sadr to the kingdom since 2006. Against the backdrop of the Iraqi elections, Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi Arabia’s Arab Gulf Affairs minister, and the former Saudi ambassador to Iraq, commented in a tweet: You are truly on the move in wisdom, patriotism and solidarity. You’ve made the decision for change towards an Iraq that raises the banners of victory with its independence, Arabism and identity. I congratulate Iraq for having you”. Sadr responded that his decisions are national.

This is reflected in the fact that there is a lot of positive change awaiting the Iraqi scene, which seeks greater stability and cohesion to face many challenges, most notably sectarianism and Iranian intervention in the region. In the midst of the event, world powers saw al-Sadr’s victory as a surprise, as well as the importance of the image on the scene, and left with a bucket of concerns regarding the Iranian neighbor known for his hatred, stirring up unrest and support sectarianism and terrorism. This victory undoubtedly caused panic in the corridors of the Iranian regime, where the Iranian side – implicitly – expressed deep concern of the quest that is most likely to undermine Iran’s influence in Iraq, and marginalizing Mullahs’ allies, especially as those fears prompted General Qasem Soleimani to travel repeatedly to Baghdad, in a clear attempt to form a broader alliance between Iran’s Shiite allies and other parties willing to form a government that is easily controlled by Tehran.

On the other hand, It is worth mentioninghere the strong Saudi policy and its significant influence in recent years, as it was part of the motives of Iran’s fears, which prompted some Iranian officials to claim that Saudi Arabia and America helped al-Sadr to reach victory and Iranian media fabricated many fabricated scenarios to strengthen that belief. The recent Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement aimed at weakening the Iranian-backed PMF and that al-Sadr’s victory could be a turning point to Iran’s role in Iraq, as he has already aroused anti-Iranian sentiment within the country.

 In all, the victory of al-Sadr reflected the state of anticipation and satisfaction among the most prominent Sunni parties in the region, considering that Sadr’s victory is a good opportunity to embody his slogans against sectarianism and the rejection of Iranian interventions and the return of Iraq to the Arab front worthy of its history, while there is considerable mobilization in the circles of Iranian political decision to prevent the formation of any coalition Government rules out Iranian militias.

 

Prospects for Iraq’s future after the elections

Given the new changes the Iraqi parliament elections have made to the social and political scene, the new scenarios for the future of Iraq, which will be resolved by the prospect of alliances to form a new Iraqi government, and the focus on the regional dimension of these elections in the light of the competition between the two regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, especially as the result of the elections was contrary to Iran’s desire, the following is expected to happen:

*The Islamic Dawa Party’s setback from taking lead in election may open the way to a new scene its features began to manifest, especially after the leader of the Sadrist movement, which headed the results of the election, announced the conditions to form the next government, namely:

1 – Openness to everyone and exclusion of the owners.

2 – The government should be competent and cross-sectarian and corrupt.

The choice of Iraqis is embarrassing for Iran -as they leave it alone in the face of the benefits of post-US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement- as it makes al-Sadr the second most difficult test facing the Iranian guardian in Baghdad, and its difficulty in the political sense even exceeds that of the first challenge, Najaf. But at the end, the final results show one outcome: The fall of Iran in Iraq, if it is not occupied by Iranian militias and terrorist operations as before.

* The American intervention, at the time of the transformation of the headquarters of the leader of the «Sadrist movement», patron of the alliance «Saaron», to the beehive because of the large number of political delegations that are looking to form the largest parliamentary bloc, Washington reached out to al-Sadr through intermediaries, after a series of sharp positions he taken against America. All that matters to Americans here:

– The position of the Sadrist movement when he takes power.

– Will heinvoke the Mahdi Army or re-employ it?

– Will he attack US forces in Iraq?

Sistani’s authoritative drawing of a line (in western terms) between church and state has appeal inside Iran, too, where domestic unrest this year wasn’t only focused on economic woes, but also on the overweening illiberal power of a corrupt theocracy. Iraq’s mini-rebellion against rule by Iranian proxy may yet prove a turning point.

These are questions that have not been answered so far by the mediators concerning the members of the upcoming coalition, the answers that will determine the size of the American role in the future. In any case, an inclusive new government and lack of using any military force other than the army, police and official security forces remains critical and even beneficial to the entire Iraqi scene.

Political Studies Unit *

References

[1]    https://bit.ly/2KqJJjnIraq’s shock election result may be turning point for Iran- theguardian

[2]    https://bit.ly/2J17SQhنتائج الانتخابات العراقية وفوز الصدر: تفاؤل في المشهد العراقي وقلق ايراني، صحيفة سبق،

[3]    https://cnn.it/2J5oztOAs votes come in, Iraqi PM’s hold on power looks shaky-By Jamie Tarabay, CNN

[4]    https://ind.pn/2GwSm9IFinal result gives Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition most seats in parliament- independent

[5]    https://bit.ly/2LrHBJxعيون وأذان انتخابات العراق.. ربما مستقبل أفضل، جهاد الخازن، جريدة الحياة

[6]    https://bit.ly/2x9E7Z1Many Iraqi legislators call for canceling election results- al-monitor

[7]    https://bit.ly/2i4KBxvمقتدى الصدر.. رجل المفاجآت  والتكيف مع التناقضات، دويتشة فيللة، على هذا الرابط

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