Baghdad – Asharq Al-Awsat
Saturday, 12 March, 2022 – 06:00
Head of the Sadrist movement, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Head of Iraq’s Sadrist movement, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr surprised his partners and rivals alike when he telephoned former Prime Minister and head of the State of Law coalition Nuri al-Maliki in an effort to ease the political impasse in the country.
Sadr had been adamant about refusing to work with Maliki even before he formed his alliance with the Sunni and Kurdish blocs after his parliamentary elections victory in October 2021. The former PM came second in the polls.
Sadr formed an alliance with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and leading Sunni figure Khamis Khanjar soon after the polls.
The months after the elections witnessed disputes between Sadr and the Shiite Coordination Framework – a grouping of pro-Iran factions that were the greatest losers in the poll – over the formation of a new government and election of a president. The Coordination Framework had rejected the results of the elections as a sham and held several protests and filed several appeals in complaint.
As the disagreements persisted, Maliki appeared as the main obstacle in the Sadrists and Framework reaching an understanding.
Sadr’s call with Maliki therefore came as a surprise to the political powers.
Barzani sought to kick off an initiative aimed at persuading Sadr to lift his “veto” against Maliki so that they would go along with the election of his candidate as president. His initiative ultimately failed.
A source close to Sadr told Asharq Al-Awsat that the cleric has “eliminated the role of the godfather, whether this was an internal or foreign player, who used to arrange affairs and then reach an agreement with all parties.”
Asked about what prompted the call with Maliki, the source explained that several factors had emerged in recent weeks, including the deterioration of relations between the Sadrists and Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).
Relations have also soured between Sadr and the two other members of his alliance, Halbousi and Khanjar. He was particularly upset with the two officials’ meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, revealed the source.
Amid these developments, the growing public anger over rising prices, the delay in the formation of a new government and failure to elect a new president, Sadr chose to “upend the equation and rebuild alliances.”
“The telephone call was part of this new shift and this means that talks with the Coordination Framework will take a new path, which may perhaps lead to understandings,” the source added.
He noted that Sadr had even proposed to Maliki the appointment of his nephew, Iraq’s ambassador to London Jaafar Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr as prime minister.
Maliki informed Sadr that the naming of a premier would be discussed with his allies in the Coordination Framework.
The Framework, meanwhile, held a meeting to address the repercussions of the call between Sadr and Maliki. Several questions have been raised: Will Sadr pay a price for nominating his nephew as premier? In other words, would he be willing to relinquish parliamentary seats in favor of the PM in return for portfolios in the new government?
Sadr’s response to this question will shape the coming phase in Iraq. The answer may lead to continued impasse that may even lead to the dissolution of parliament and holding new elections, or it could lead to a solution from which all parties come out with major losses and minor gains.