Jockeying for premiership divides Shia parties, Sadr could look for army officer if not Kadhimi | | AW
BAGHDAD–Political talks between Shia factions in Iraq have fleshed out two different trends in the competition for the premiership as well as a readiness to accept a compromise to overcome the current logjam caused by the results of the October general election.
Although the bloc led by Muqtada al-Sadr won a clear lead in the Shia districts, which placed it in a comfortable negotiating position, it failed to garner sufficient seats to allow it to be the dominant party in the next government. This has prompted other Shia parties to join ranks as part of the so-called “coordination framework”.
Observers say that the situation that emerged from the 2021 elections is akin to that in 2010 when the two Shia blocs won by a close margin. As a result of the October poll, the Sadrist bloc controls 74 seats, while the seats the “coordination framework” forces control an overall total of some 70 seats.
So far, Sadr has not been able to find a Shia ally within the “coordination framework” in order to a larger majority, before starting negotiations over portfolios in the next government with Sunnis and Kurds.
However, within the Sadrist bloc and the “coordination framework,” two trends as well as a possible compromise have emerged over the premiership candidacy and the distribution of Shia ministerial portfolios.
The Sadrist bloc backs reappointing Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the current prime minister, to form the new government. If objections to Khadimi come from the “coordination framework,” which includes representatives of the Shia militias loyal to Iran and the Rule of Law coalition led by Nuri al-Maliki and others, the Sadrists would prefer to appoint a senior officer from the Iraqi army to head the next government.
And if this option also fails, Muqtada al-Sadr will nominate former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form the new cabinet.
Although Abadi is part of the Shia “coordination framework” forces, he is close to Sadr, Kadhimi and moderate political forces, but has been forced to coordinate with pro-Iran factions because of his resounding defeat in recent elections.
Iraqi political writer Masar Abdul Mohsen Radi believes that Sadr will only choose a political party figure.
Talking to The Arab Weekly, Radi suggested that choosing Haider al-Abadi to form the next government will undermine Maliki’s political standing.
He said, “Choosing Abadi means destroying Maliki’s presidency of the Dawa Party.”
The “coordination framework” forces prefer to endorse Maliki’s nomination but would not say so publicly. Instead, it floats names such as that of the current National Security Adviser Qassem al-Araji, Basra Governor Asaad al-Eidani, former Youth Minister Abdul-Hussein Abtan and MP Muhammad Shiaa al-Sudani.
The same names currently circulating within the “coordination framework” have been been mentioned during various government formation talks since 2014, with none of them having a serious chance of being chosen. This suggests that they are all test balloons for media consumption.
Sources familiar with the negotiations indicate that the Sadrist bloc and the “coordination framework” are expected to postpone the choice of the candidate for prime minister until agreement is reached on dividing ministries among the different parties within the overall Shia quota and then choosing each minister.
Sources told an Arab Weekly correspondent in Baghdad that this scenario, which appears to be advancing with the help of Iranian mediation, will mean granting the Sadrist bloc six portfolios in the new government and the same number to the “coordination framework” parties.
The sources say that trying to forge an internal Shia consensus at this stage may mean, to a large extent, agreeing on Kadhimi, or, to a slightly lesser degree, choosing Abadi.
Analysts say such speculation reflects the magnitude of the decline in Iranian influence, as Kadhimi and Abadi, both Shia, are considered allies of the Arab Gulf countries and the United States and are not acceptable to pro-Iran Shia hard liners.
Iraqi political writer Hamid Al-Kafaei said, “the winning forces should not give up their right to form a government because such a concession has had dire consequences in 2010 when we ignored election results and allowed the losing forces to form a government.”
According to sectarian quotas that have become the political norm in Iraq, the position of prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces belongs the Shia majority.
Kafaei said, “The Iraqi people want change and want a new, efficient, loyal government that will pull the country out of the abyss and address the urgent problems that have weakened and disintegrated the country, primarily confronting the armed militias linked to Iran and stripping them of the official legitimacy which the former parliament gave them during the era of Haider al-Abadi.
He added, “Kadhimi’s government failed in all the tasks that it was supposed to address, the first of which is the task of prosecuting the killers of the demonstrators, fighting corruption, doing justice to the poor and the deprived and improving services, so renewing its term in office renewal would be a grave mistake. Abadi’s government had also failed in the past and the country is still suffering from its failures. Besides, it is not right to bring a loser in the elections to lead the government.”