Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, has nominated Riber Ahmed, the Kurdistan region’s interior minister, for the position of president of the republic and Mohammad Jaafar al-Sadr, one of his cousins to be the next prime minister.
A file picture shows Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attending a news conference in Najaf, Iraq. (Reuters)
Partisan and personal loyalties have decided the fate of Iraq’s presidency and premiership, despite all previous vows by populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr to base his nominations for leadership posts on the national interest only.
Instead, Iraq seems to be moving away from a system of political quotas to one based on the accommodation of various players, if not indeed, plain nepotism.
Sadr chose to nominate Riber Ahmed, the Kurdistan region’s interior minister and director of the office of party leader Massoud Barzani, for the position of president of the republic. He has also nominated Mohammad Jaafar al-Sadr, one of his cousins, to serve as the country’s prime minister.
Iraqi political analysts said that Sadr, who had claimed to be motivated by a desire to free himself from the yoke of the pro-Iranian Shia Coordination Framework, has fallen under the control of Massoud Barzani and accepted his conditions. These included endorsing the latter’s nominee for the presidency of Iraq, despite the fact that the candidate is virtually unknown to most Iraqis. Moreover, Ahmed will have a hard time filling the shoes of a figure of the stature, connections and overall record of the incumbent Barham Salih.
Analysts said that by agreeing to be swayed by the game of political accommodation and by choosing a relative with no political record nor experience as nominee for prime minister, Sadr has shown he is no different from the rest of the political players who have assumed leadership positions in the country since the 2003 US invasion. His opposition to quotas, nepotism and his advocacy of the “national majority” now ring hollow, they add.
Three days before the appointment of a new president for Iraq, the tripartite alliance (the Sunni Sovereignty Alliance, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Sadrists) announced the formation of the largest bloc in parliament under the banner of “Saving the Country”. The new alliance officially announced the nomination of Riber Ahmed for president and Mohammad Jaafar al-Sadr as prime minister.
Sadr released a statement in which he considered this tripartite choice “a unique and important achievement to save the homeland,” hoping for “the formation of a national majority government without delay.”
Next Saturday, the Iraqi parliament is expected to hold a session to elect a new president. The decision has been postponed repeatedly as a result of Barzani’s bid to ensure the selection of his own candidate. This comes despite the failure of his first choice, Hoshyar Zebari, over charges of corruption and nepotism stemming from his time as finance minister in 2016.
Iraqi analysts said Sadr’s submitting to Barzani’s wishes over the presidential nominee is likely to undermine his reputation among the general public and the youth protest movement in particular. It shows him as no different from traditional figures dedicated to working within the quota and nepotism system. From that perspective, observers do not rule out seeing Sadr set out to place his supporters from the Peace Brigades in state institutions.
It will not enhance his credibility, they say, to have chosen a cousin with no experience to head the government, instead of an independent Iraqi figure who could deal effectively with the economic crisis and be able to distance the government from the pressures of Iran and its militias.
Going along with Barzani’s demands to nominate a figure without political experience to head the country is also likely to damage Iraq’s image abroad and dash the hopes of regional powers that Sadr would guide Iraq onto the path of neutrality.
Former Kurdish MP, Bistun Faeq, said: “the position of president requires the nomination of a well-known figure at the level of Iraq in general and that of the Kurdish people in particular.”
He described the nomination of Riber as “surprising to the Kurds first, because the majority of them do not know anything about him except that he assumed the portfolio of the ministry of the interior of the region within the last ministerial cabinet.”
It is not known whether the new parliamentary alliance has already secured the majority that will allow it to ensure the approval of the Kurdish candidate for the presidency nor whether it would rely on independent MPs. These have sent signals saying that they would not give Sadr a blank cheque and that they wanted to play the role of a “partner” in choosing the government.
Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the Shia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq faction, which is affiliated with the Shia Coordination Framework, accused the Sadrist Current of trying “to seize the Shia’s share of the government ministries.”
Khazali said in a televised statement, “There is a feeling of anxiety among the Shia segment of the population, in general and fear of losing their rights.”