ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Muqtada al-Sadr, the kingmaker in Iraqi politics, outright rejected US influence in the formation of the government, but took a more lenient approach to Iran.
Sadr, who is an influential Shiite cleric and frequently answers queries posed to him from individual Iraqis about religious, political, and cultural affairs, was asked how he responds to some statements that the Iraqi government cannot be formed without the assent of Tehran and Washington.
With respect to Iran, he noted that as a neighbor, it has regional interests.
“Iran is a neighboring country concerned for its interests. We hope it doesn’t intervene in Iraqi affairs and we reject anyone interfering in its affairs,” he stated.
In the week after the election, Sadr met with ambassadors of all of Iraq’s neighbours – Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – except for Iran.
Sadr previously led the Mahdi Army that fought against US forces in the 2000’s, killing tens of US soldiers. He disbanded the group later, forming the Peace Brigades militia in 2014.
In the May 12 parliamentary election, he adopted a reform-minded, secular approach, forming an alliance with Iraq’s communist party. He is opposed to any external influence in Baghdad.
Sadr’s alliance topped the polls, though no single list gained a strong minority. Party leaders have held a flurry of meetings in the weeks after the vote as they negotiate formation of the next government.
Iran’s powerful general Qassem Soleimani and the US’ special envoy to the war on ISIS Brett McGurk both visited Iraq after the election, meeting with political parties.
The US has made contact with Sadr’s team through back channels.
“They asked what the position of the Sadrist movement will be when they come to power. Are they going to reinvent or invoke the Mahdi Army or reemploy them? Are they going to attack American forces in Iraq,” Dhiaa al-Asadi, a top aide to Sadr, told Reuters.
Sadr stressed that the snippets of information coming out on Twitter are not a comprehensive look at the government-in-formation.
“Yes states can’t be built and governments can’t be formed through Twitter or tweets. These are only glimmers I transmit to the Iraqi people,” he tweeted in answer to another query.