For the Antichrist, deal-making and tough choices start now

A file picture shows Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaking after preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced in Najaf, Iraq, October 11, 2021. (REUTERS)

For Iraq’s Sadr, deal-making and tough choices start now

BAGHDAD-

With the Federal Supreme Court’s ratification of the disputed election results, the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, now has to reckon with the need to strike deals with various political blocs in order to form the cabinet and run the government.

To start with, he will have to quickly flesh out his ideas on the priorities of the new government and how it should work, now that he leads the largest bloc in the parliament. That bloc must build the required parliamentary alliances which will underlie the formation of the government.

Iraqi political sources say that the leader of the Sadrist movement will face a real challenge with such alliances. They wonder if Sadr will be able to win the support of the Sunni, Kurdish and independent blocs without making the necessary concessions to achieve that goal. Another question, given his opposition to the quota system, will be if he is prepared to share portfolios with other blocs to satisfy supportive MPs.

These sources said that it is not possible to talk about “forming a national majority government,” as advocated by Sadr, without providing sufficient guarantees to the parliamentarians who would be willing to back it. The most important guarantee would be ministerial portfolios for their blocs as well as positions and dividends for the parliamentarians themselves and their supporters. The sources say that speaking of a national majority government is just loose talk as long as Sadr and his bloc’s representatives do not sit with representatives of the various other blocs and convince them to support the government. Without such meetings, he could lose everyone’s support.

Sadr called on Monday for the expedited formation of a “national majority government” without recourse to the quota system. The content of his proposal has remained ambiguous since his meeting at the beginning of December with the leaders of the Coordination Framework, composed of Shia parties loyal to Iran.

If Sadr wants to be free from the pressures of the Coordination Framework member-parties, he will have to show greater flexibility in managing relations with the Sunni blocs over the choice of the parliamentary speaker in exchange for explicit support for a government and the creation of a parliamentary and political support base for that government.

The comments of the main Sunni blocs have shown a willingness to examine any proposals on joining the government. The leader of the “Taqddom” (Progress) coalition, Muhammad al-Halbousi, said in a tweet, “The consensus agreement to abide by the decisions of the Federal Court regarding ratification of the election results is a step forward towards advancing on the democratic path away from chaos and lawlessness.”

Sadr needs to reach out to the informally-named Independent bloc in the new parliament, which represents the Iraqi political protest movement opposed to government policies and the quota system. Members of the Independent bloc have been instrumental in weakening the political standing of the Hashed Shaabi bloc and Rule of Law coalition.

The leader of the Sadrist movement will also have to decide how to deal with the Kurds and whether he will manoeuvre to keep Barham Salih in the presidency without clashing with Massoud Barzani.

It is not known whether Sadr will choose for a prime minister an “independent” figure behind whom he will operate so that he and the Sadrist movement can distance themselves from all shortcomings or if he will risk naming a prime minister from his own people, even if that would mean bearing the consequences of the cabinet’s failures as well as its successes.

Iraqi observers say Sadr will eventually choose the option that will enable him to remain the influential party behind the scenes. They believe the closest to a possible consensus figure may be Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, through whom the Sadrist movement can expect the government to earn international recognition and gain support from the United States and countries of the region, especially if Barham Salih is maintained in the presidency.

Kadhimi’s nomination would have the added benefit of scotching the influence of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a contender for the office of prime minister, especially since Iran could use Maliki as a means to pressure and blackmail Sadr.

It is expected that the factions that make up the Coordination Framework will start putting obstacles in front of Sadr to prevent him from forming a government without them.

On Monday, one of them, Kata’ib Hezbollah announced its boycott of the formation of the next government, after the Federal Supreme Court approved the election results.

It said in a statement that “the parties that confiscated the rights of the Iraqi people were supported by the Saudi-American Zionist coalition, to pass their agendas.” And it claimed that “the Electoral Commission was subjected to the most abject forms of exploitation by those parties, during and after the elections.”

However, observers believe that the first step for the pro-Iranian factions will be to send threatening messages to the Sadrist movement and its leader in the hope of forcing their participation in the government and obtaining clear concessions.

The Coordination Framework had anticipated the court’s decision by presenting a nine-point alternative initiative, which includes a call to “address the parliamentary imbalance resulting from the flawed election results” by making sure that laws and legislations are not enacted with the exclusion of other parties.”

The initiative also proposed that the top positions of the three branches of government “should be subject to the agreement of the political forces and take into account the prevailing constitutional customs.” This is a call for consensus-based solutions that guarantee acceptable positions for the Coordination Framework despite its loss in the elections.

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