The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) sent the final results of Iraq’s October 10 election to the Federal Court on November 1 for approval. Sadrists and other election winners welcomed the news, while political parties within the Coordination Framework vowed to resort to the Federal Court amid protests and sit-ins in front of the Green Zone gate, occasionally threatening to enter the fortified area.
The Sadrist Movement and the ecstasy of victory
The Sadrist Movement has 74 seats, representing nearly 40% of the Shiite seats and 22% of the total Parliament seats, leaving the Sadrists and their leader Muqtada al-Sadr euphoric. IHEC has confirmed that they won 73, plus one former Sadrist member (Burhan al-Maamori) has joined them from Diyala which takes them to 74.
This remarkable victory prompted the Sadrist Movement to announce its intention to form a majority government, as Sadr tweeted on October 31, 2021, saying, “I see that the first thing that needs to be done for the future for the country is a national majority government.”
Sadr counted on the allies he engaged with before the elections and entered into in-depth negotiations, namely with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and the Taqadum Alliance, headed by Mohammed al-Halbousi. However, both parties took the position that al-Sadr needs to reach an understanding with other forces within the Shiite house before entering into any serious alliances to form a national majority government.
Sadr, for his part, announced his intention to negotiate with the Coordination Framework and invited them to visit Najaf and meet in his father’s house, the late Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr. The Coordination Framework asked him to send a delegation to discuss the issues before visiting Najaf.
Sadr surprised them with an agreement to visit them himself and, in December, they met in the house of the Fatih Alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri. However, the meeting ended with no agreement reached, and Sadr tweeted, “Neither Eastern nor Western, national majority government.”
The leaders of the Coordination Framework were supposed to return Sadr’s visit with a similar visit to Najaf within a week. Sadr relaxed and waited for the framework visit and the approval of the final results of the elections. At the same time, Sadr maintained the ban on the Sadrist Political Commission to engage with any political party to discuss coalition formations.
The Sadrist media machine has also fallen silent, content with their leader’s tweets from time to time, which have declined significantly from 19 tweets between October 10 and 31, compared to about nine tweets during November, with only one tweet so far in December.
In contrast, the Coordination Framework has adopted a transparent strategy to keep the Sadrists waiting while they move to further delay the ratification of the election results, pressure political parties to join the Framework, and prevent the potential coalition partners from going with Sadr.
The Coordination Framework moves in all directions
As soon as the political forces within the Coordination Framework passed the shock stage of their disappointing results, they began to salvage what they could, and aimed to control the political scene by adopting a strategy of pressure and openness. Its first steps were to organize angry demonstrations followed by ongoing mass sit-ins in front of the Green Zone gate, calling for a manual recount and threatening to enter the Green Zone. Furthermore, they resorted to the Federal Court to block the approval of the results and pressure them to cancel the elections in their entirety.
On the other hand, these forces were keen to keep the Coordination Framework unified, prevent the withdrawal of any bloc, and invite independent winners to join the framework and attend their meetings. It contributed to pushing Sunni blocs and personalities to establish a new alliance (Azm) to compete with Taqadum Alliance over the post of Iraq’s Parliament Speaker.
Azm Alliance and the Sunni Taqadum Alliance met twice. They issued a joint statement on December 14 announcing the formation of “a unified negotiating delegation… to negotiate with the rest of the partners,” thus cutting off the path for Halbousi to join Sadr alone.
A high-level delegation from the framework is scheduled to visit Erbil and Sulaimani soon to consult and discuss with the Kurdish political forces. Meanwhile, a delegation from the KDP headed by Hoshyar Zebari met with the Fatih Alliance on December 14; a statement issued by Fatih said that Zebari told them, “Our position is clear, we will not be with any party without the other… You are our allies, and we have had jihadist, political, and governmental relations for decades. We have [an] understanding of the rest of the political forces, and we are working with everyone to resolve tensions and problems in the current political situation.”
It has become evident that the Coordination Framework has succeeded so far in preventing the Kurds and Sunnis from allying with the Sadrist Movement to form an alliance that will lead to the formation of a majority government.
Will the 2010 scenario be repeated?
The political forces within the framework have grown more confident after passing the critical stage. They are now behaving like those who draw the features of the upcoming political map, leaving everyone awaiting their steps, which have come slowly amid the absence of any time limitation until the final results are approved.
There are close similarities between what the Coordination Framework is doing and what the State of Law Coalition did after the elections of March 7, 2010. The State of Law used the Federal Court to explain the largest bloc after losing the election to Iraqi National List, headed by Ayad Allawi. In a move to prevent Allawi from claiming victory and forming a government, the Court granted the State of Law what it wanted on March 25, 2010.
The State of Law also challenged the election results, demanding a manual count and obliging the IHEC to do so. Re-counting and sorting took place for Baghdad only, and the announcement of the results was suspended until the end of May 2010, approximately two months following the election. The Federal Court ratified the election results in early June 2010; then, the State of Law agreed to begin political negotiations to form the largest bloc. The first party they engaged was the Iraqi National List. Their negotiations continued for nearly three months, ending without an agreement.
At the same time, the leader of State of Law, Nuri al-Maliki, was keen to negotiate with the Kurdish forces, which resulted in a bilateral agreement with the leader of the KDP called the Erbil Agreement on August 8, 2010, which gained the Kurdish vote that allowed him to remain in power. State of Law also began to negotiate with the Shiite blocs to form a significant Shiite alliance and to agree with the National Iraqi Alliance to nominate Maliki as prime minister for a second term on October 2, 2010. Thus, the State of Law and its leader Maliki succeeded in blocking the way for the Iraqi National List to form an alliance with the rival political blocs, instead attracting them to sign up with State of Law to form the largest bloc and secure his candidacy.
The similarity and comparison between State of Law’s political moves and maneuvers in 2010 and those of the Coordination Framework in 2021 is inescapable.
The flip side is also comparable; the silence of the Sadrist Movement is the same as the position of the Iraqi National List and its failure to form a large coalition to secure government formation in 2010.
It is worth mentioning that a member of Sadr’s inner circle, Jalil al-Nouri, tweeted on October 12, 2021, saying, “Sadr is not Allawi.” This means that the similarities are present in the minds of the Sadrist Movement, even if they believe that the Sadrist Movement is not the Iraqi National List.
End game scenarios
If the 2010 negotiations are a compass for what will happen in the coming days, the approval of the Federal Court will not be far-fetched and may occur shortly. The political forces will sit at the dialogue table to agree on a specific scenario to share the pie.
In the past two weeks, political events have indicated that the Sadrist Movement is unlikely to achieve its endeavors to form a government of the national majority headed by the Sadrists.
Alternative scenarios to reaching a political resolution
The first scenario, then, is that Sadr goes to the opposition. Thus the government becomes a national majority government with solid opposition from the Sadrists and independent blocs, which is estimated at over 100 deputies.
The second scenario is the formation of a total consensus government in which everyone participates, although this is unlikely if Sadr refuses to take part.
The third scenario is that Sadr agrees with part of the Shiite Framework (whether with the State of Law or the Fatih Alliance) and selects a consensual prime minister.
The fourth scenario is a seven-way consensus government (the Sadrists, Fatih, the State of Law, Taqadum and Azm Alliance, the KDP and PUK) with small blocs and independents going to opposition, and a consensual prime minister chosen.
The fifth scenario is a semi-consensual government that includes the Sadrists, the Fatih Alliance, and parts of the Kurds and Sunnis, with the selection of a consensual prime minister.
The sixth scenario is the continuation of the situation as it is – that is, a political impasse. The caretaker government will continue for some time to come, as happened in Lebanon.
The final scenario would be a total failure of the political forces to reach any agreement as outlined above. This means the worst scenario will lead to paralysis of the political process and the entry into a constitutional vacuum. With it, we will be faced with numerous unexpected possibilities, including a political coup, internal fighting between armed groups of all shades, and economic collapse amid the return of popular demonstrations against the ruling political class, not to mention the return of terrorism.
Farhad Alaaldin is the Chairman of the Iraqi Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.