Sunni, Kurdish blocs back the Antichrist

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi (L) meets with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, January 6, 2021. (AFP)

Sunni, Kurdish blocs back Sadrist Movement ahead of parliament session but will Kadhimi be the PM?

BAGHDAD, Iraq-

The outline of a governing coalition has begun to emerge in Iraq with the success of Sunni forces, represented by Al-Taqaddom and Al-Azm blocs, in allying with each other, along with the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)  and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which have bridged their own differences. The formations are about to form a unified delegation in government formation talks.

Regarding the premiership, the Sadrist movement, which has avoided nominating any candidate for prime minister, is said to lean towards maintaining current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in his position, despite the objections of the Coordination Framework, which comprises Shia parties loyal to Iran.

Sadr has warmly received Kadhimi, Thursday, in the Najaf governorate amid cabinet formation talks.

Kadhimi said earlier that his visit to Najaf was “purely administrative and not of political in nature.” But Iraqi political sources said that the visit was not devoid of political significance especially considering its timing.

They noted that Sadr sees Kadhimi as the most capable figure that could lead a “national majority government”, which he seeks to form.

They attribute Sadr’s desire to hold on to Kadhimi to many considerations, including the current prime minister’s independence from political parties and his pragmatic management of crises during the past period. The soures add that Sadr and Kadhimi see eye to eye on many issues, especially security concerns, as the prime minister, much like the Sadrist movement’s leader, believes only the state should bear arms.

Pro-Iran forces are said, however, to be opposed to Kadhimi’s nomination to a new term in office as they consider him to be hostile to their interests.

Cementing alliances

Iraqi political analysts say that the current arrangements by Sunni and Kurdish parties are a prelude to declaring the formation of a larger alliance between these forces and the Sadrist movement.

The Sadrist Movement won the October legislative elections and want to form a “national majority” government that breaks with the consensus-based quota system, which has guided the country’s political process for years.

Analysts indicate that the road seems clear for the Sadrist Movement to forge a comfortable parliamentary alliance with the Sunni and Kurdish forces, especially if it also succeeds in including independents. This may usher in a new political era where pro-Iran forces are confined to leading the opposition camp.

They believe this emerging alliance is likely to break with the consensus-based system on which previous governments were built, which set the country on a slippery slope, where the political process was marred by ineptitude and the spread of nepotism and corruption.

Analysts caution, however, that the change in the rules of political engagement is unlikely to lead to improved living conditions for Iraqis, especially since the forces that will lead the next stage had been part of the ruling system against which the Iraqi street rose up.

The Sunni alliance of Al Takddom and Al Azm parties announced on Wednesday evening,  will be represented by 64 MPs as the opening session of parliament takes place next Sunday.

The creation of this alliance has been welcomed by the Sadrist movement and the KDP, which had been part of past efforts to bridge differences between the leaders of Takaddom and Al-Azm, former Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi and businessman Khamis al-Khanjar.

This nascent Sunni coalition also enjoys wider Arab support. The announcement of the alliance between the two Sunni blocs had been preceded by a joint tour, which took Halbousi and Khanjar to countries of the region, including the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt.

In a press statement, Halbousi called for joint action to ensure the stability and reconstruction of the country and for common positions to help achieve the unity of Iraq. Khanjar said in a similar statement that the alliance being formed is intended to serve Iraq and promote the rights of its people. It would remain impervious to the pressures aimed at dissuading the Sunni blocs from joining hands.

Observers believe the success of Halbousi and Khanjar in overcoming the differences of the past is an important step that will allow their parties to play a pivotal role in Iraqi politics. They hope to restore a measure of balance within the political system and overcome the obstacles that have hindered their influence, including the dominance of pro-Iran factions as well as divisions within the Sunni camp itself.

Kurds united

New developments have also emerged within the Kurdish camp, specifically between the KDP and the PUK, which have reached a tentative agreement paving the way for the formation of a joint negotiating delegation.

KDP spokesman Mahmoud Mohamed al-Khamis confirmed the plan to form a joint delegation which will participate in talks on forming a government.

Khamis said the intention was to join an alliance with the Sadrist Movement and the Sunnis, as part of an effort aimed at putting together a majority government.

The spokesman backed the Sadrist break with the old quota system, saying, “The Sadrists support the formation of a national majority government, which in their view will not include all parties, as used to be the case in the past following the consensus-based system. This means there will be government parties and an opposition.”

This is the first clear and explicit statement on the KDP’s view of an alliance with the Sadrists.

“We have already endeavoured and will continue our attempts in the remaining few days to enlarge the majority, but if this cannot be achieved, there cannot be an institutional vacuum. We need to form a government to resolve current problems and make a decision in this regard during the next few days, ” said the KDP spokesman.

Observers believe that the road has been cleared for the launch of an alliance between the Sadrists, the Kurds and the Sunnis, noting that while the independents’ bloc may not join the alliance, it is likely to vote in favour of the new government in the parliament.

Last Thursday, Iraqi President Barham Salih signed a decree convening the new parliament in session for January 9.

In it, Salih stressed the need to “meet national interests by forming a competent and effective government that protects the interests of the country and enhances its sovereignty, as well as protects and serves Iraqis,” adding that “this requires solidarity in order to implement the reforms needed for a stable and prosperous Iraq.”

Early parliamentary elections were held in Iraq, October 10. The Sadrist movement took the lead with 73 seats out of 329, while the Progress Alliance won 37 seats, the Rule of Law coalition garnered 33 seats, while the Democratic Party took 31.

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