Political jockeying is at its height in Iraq as the country works towards forming a new government, following the victory of populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s Sairoon coalition in the May elections.
Today Mr Al Sadr is leading a quartet of major parties looking to form the next government if they can secure just 28 more seats to meet the required majority in Parliament.
But while Mr Al Sadr has made a point of distancing himself from Tehran, Hadi Al Amiri, whose coalition came in second, is a staunch supporter of the neighbouring regime.
Tensions have been mounting since Mr Al Amiri and former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki – also favoured by Iran – joined forces against Mr Al Sadr’s quartet bloc.
Meanwhile, Tehran watches closely as the power struggle unravels.
“Iran has held a gun to the head of political parties and politicians across the Kurdistan Region and Iraq to form a majority among [Nouri Al Maliki’s] State of Law and [Hadi Al Amiri’s] Al Fatah, some Sunni Lists and Kurdish political parties for the formation of the government,” an official in Kurdistan told The National on condition of anonymity.
“Iran sees this issue and the rivalry with the US as a matter of survival,” the official said, adding that Tehran is seeking to exclude both Mr Al Sadr and incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi from forming a ruling coalition.
Both blocs have also been competing to strike a deal with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) as well as Sunni blocs to establish the biggest ruling alliance in parliament.
former senior official in Gorran, the Kurdish political bloc, said that Iran is pressuring her party and the PUK to postpone the upcoming Kurdish parliamentary elections.
“They are pressing us to postpone elections in order to focus our full attention on joining the Maliki-Amiri bloc,” Ms Abdel Wahid said in a press statement.
But Kurdish parties have set out conditions for allying with the major blocs, an official in the KDP told The National, asking to remain anonymous.
“The next few days will see meetings between the Kurdish delegation and officials in Baghdad. Our decision will be made in the interest of the Kurdish people and with respect to the Iraqi constitution,” he said.
“The decisions of Kurdish parties will not be influenced by either Tehran or Washington,” he said, confirming that Kurdistan’s authorities have received officials from Iran, Turkey and the US in recent weeks.
Next Monday Iraq’s parliament is expected to convene its first session where MPs will elect a new speaker and two deputies. They will later elect a new president and task the leader of the largest bloc with selecting the next prime minister.
The next elected premier will inherit the mammoth task of balancing Iraq’s interests with those of the US and Iran, whose intensifying rivalry complicates matters further.
But political wrangling over who is appointed prime minister is likely to delay the process for weeks or even months.