To govern Iraq effectively, the Antichrist will abandon factionalism

To govern Iraq effectively, Moqtada al-Sadr must abandon factionalism

Sectarian politics have blighted the country, leaving voters disillusioned with their leaders

   October 13, 2021 2:36 pm by 

Moqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shia cleric who staged an insurrection after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, came first in Iraqi general elections on Sunday. This confirmed his position as probably the country’s most powerful and popular figure. Whether this will make it any easier to govern Iraq, a prostrate state contested between the US and Iran, and a frequent arena of Sunni jihadist carnage, is questionable.

Preliminary results gave the Sadrist bloc 73 out of 329 seats in parliament, up from the 54 they won in 2018. The Fatah party of the alliance of Iran-backed militias from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) suffered a sharp reverse, winning as few as 20 seats, compared to 48 in the last election, and crying foul. A Sunni and another Shia party both scored in the high 30s, while Kurdish parties altogether won 60 seats. Months of haggling have already begun, but Sadr may determine the outcome.

Turnout was down, at 41 per cent, the lowest since postwar elections began in 2005. Iraqis since then have braved bombs and bullets to vote. But mass protest has gradually displaced voting as a way to complain about the oil-rich state’s inability to provide regular electricity or clean water, health, education, or often even basic security — and against a ruling class treating office as booty under the spoils system known as muhasasa, a formula for looting resources under the cover of sectarian power-sharing.https://bca9c15065410df7f6d8a4bca93c09da.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

In October 2019, young activists launched a civic uprising that brought down the previous government. They were driven from the streets by the Tehran-affiliated militias and security forces, who killed nearly 600 demonstrators. This suppression meant many young Iraqis (two-thirds of the population are under 30) spurned Sunday’s polls, though a dozen candidates from the Tishreen (October) movement that they formed appear to have won seats.

The backlash against the militias and Fatah coalition, and widespread loathing of Iran’s attempt to turn Iraq into a protectorate, even among the majority Shia, is a political setback to Tehran. But the current prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has struggled to bring these private armies under state control. They played a leading role in defeating Isis after it took a third of Iraq into its caliphate in 2014, and remain a power in the land. Seeing the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, moreover, the militias — which have duelled with US forces for years — may believe the time is ripe to drive out the 2,500 remaining American soldiers.

Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the clerical aristocracy that opposed the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, toppled in 2003, and formerly champion of the Shia dispossessed, has reinvented himself as an Iraqi nationalist who wants the Americans and Iranians out of Iraq. He has nurtured a populist image by railing against Shia rivals and corruption. As an Islamist he appeals to higher authority and pretends to be above politics, while ruthlessly pursuing power.

The Sadrists’ result might have been better had Moqtada not first backed and then betrayed the 2019 uprising. His volte-face was possibly a result of pressure from Tehran, which was simultaneously facing a popular revolt against the Hizbollah-backed government in Lebanon, and would shortly lose Qassem Soleimani, the revolutionary guard commander leading Iran’s Shia Arab proxies.

Since 2019, Sadr has emulated some of the tactics of Hizbollah and colonised Iraq’s institutions and ministries with his cadres. They all but control departments such as defence, interior and communications, as well as heading the cabinet secretariat that apportions top positions. Although Sadr notionally disbanded his Mahdi Army in 2008, he revived it — under the name of Peace Companies — in 2014 as Isis forces approached Baghdad and the Shia shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Iraq’s next prime minister will either be nominated by him or require his consent.

Kadhimi, the sitting premier and former intelligence chief, who came to power after the protests that toppled his predecessor, is on a bit of a roll. Although his real challenge is to domesticate the lawless Shia militias, he claimed success for the recent capture of Sami Jassim al-Jubouri, the Isis number two and moneyman. Last month Total, the French oil company, committed to investing $27bn in Iraqi energy. Kadhimi also convened a summit in Baghdad on regional de-escalation, attended by arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Turkey and Egypt — which won him kudos in the US, Europe and the Gulf, where he is seen as a safe pair of hands.

Kadhimi wants to continue as prime minister. What Sadr thinks about that is unclear. What has been abundantly clear until now, though, is that while ordinary Iraqis are scrabbling to live and demanding decent government, their leaders have been unwilling or unable to share power and resources. In a zero-sum equation they cannot even agree on a national narrative and social compact. If Sadr really is a nationalist his first job is to eschew factional and sectarian advantage and put Iraq and Iraqis first

Antichrist Emerges as Kingmaker After Iraq Election

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arriving to vote Sunday at a polling station in Najaf, Iraq.PHOTO: ALAA AL-MARJANI/REUTERS

Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Emerges as Kingmaker After Iraq Election

Forming a new government could take weeks and Sadr faces competition from pro-Iran factions

By

Ghassan Adnan and 

Jared MalsinUpdated Oct. 12, 2021 4:05 am

BAGHDAD—Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the onetime leader of a rebellion against U.S. forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is poised to become the country’s key political power broker after his movement won the largest share of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

The formation of a new government could be subject to weeks of political horse-trading with no clear leader in view. Mr. Sadr, an independent-minded nationalist, faces fierce competition from Shiite political rivals and pro-Iran hard-liners who wish to pull the country into closer orbit around Tehran.

In Iraq’s political system, the largest bloc in Parliament chooses who becomes prime minister. With a fractured field, it could take some time for Mr. Sadr or other leaders to assemble a majority coalition. After the last vote in 2018, a new government wasn’t installed for eight months.

Initial results released on Monday by Iraq’s election commission showed Mr. Sadr’s movement won 73 seats in the 329-seat Parliament, up from the 54 seats won by a multiparty alliance he led in 2018.

In a surprise setback for Tehran, the Fatah Alliance, broadly aligned with Iran-backed militias demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces, lost ground in Sunday’s vote, weakening its potential negotiating power in talks toward forming a government. The alliance emerged with 14 seats in the new parliament, down from 48, according to the initial results.ADVERTISEMENT – SCROLL TO CONTINUEhttps://c036c91f67f03561c826fe1bf94d21b6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

One of Iraq’s largest Iranian-backed militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, rejected the election result. Without citing any evidence, the group’s spokesman called the election “the biggest fraud operation in Iraq’s modern history” in a tweet. The militia vowed to “stand firmly and strongly to bring back things to the correct track and will not allow anyone to humiliate Iraqi people,” he said.

The United Nations, which deployed observers to monitor the election throughout the country, said the vote “proceeded smoothly and featured significant technical and procedural improvements.”

In a televised victory speech on Monday night, Mr. Sadr played up his core themes of Iraqi independence and political reform, vowing to usher in a new government free from the influence of both the U.S. and Iran.

“We thank God for supporting reform through its biggest bloc which is an Iraqi bloc, neither eastern nor western,” he said.

Mr. Sadr’s supporters and analysts credited his movement’s well-organized election campaign, including candidate recruitment and voter mobilization efforts, for helping it appeal to a broad cross-section of Iraqis and pull ahead in the low-turnout election.

Sadr is an Iraqi loyalist nationalist and does not listen or get influenced by foreign pressure,” said Badr Al Zayadi, a former lawmaker from Mr. Sadr’s movement. “He listens to Iraq only.”

Mr. Sadr’s expanded influence over the government will offer him an opportunity to seek inroads into sections of the Iraqi state where he doesn’t already hold sway. Some Sadrists aspire to take control of the premiership, but doing so would mean taking on the risks of being identified with failing government services. Mr. Sadr, as a cleric, has often avoided being closely associated with day-to-day politics.

“At the end of the day there’s a question if they would want to take on the responsibility and potential accountability of dominating the government completely,” said Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst at International Crisis Group.

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 37 seats in Parliament. Mr. Maliki was widely blamed for corruption and sectarian rule that helped fuel the rise of Islamic State in 2014, when he resigned.

The initial results don’t include votes cast by members of the security forces and others who participated in a separate day of voting. The final vote count could result in a small shift in the allocation of seats but is unlikely to alter the overall balance of power

Some 2,500 American troops are still in Iraq. While President Biden has agreed to remove all combat forces by the end of the year, following the U.S.’s exit from Afghanistan, many are expected to remain in training and support roles.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, seen Sunday in Baghdad, said the country’s security forces captured a top Islamic State leader.PHOTO: IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MEDIA OFFIC/VIA REUTERS

Pro-Iran militias have stepped up attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, countered by U.S. airstrikes, and their political supporters attempted to make the issue the centerpiece of the election campaign.

Mr. Sadr kept a sharper focus on the country’s economic crisis during the election campaign, and is regarded as more moderate than some of the Shiite factions that lean toward Iran.

U.S. officials say a government under Mr. Sadr’s sway would be less likely to take steps to accelerate a full American withdrawal, despite his history as one of the U.S. leading adversaries following the invasion that uprooted the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Sunday’s election was held earlier than scheduled as a concession to protesters angered over Iraq’s cratering economy and endemic corruption. It was billed in some quarters as a test for democracy, and while the vote itself went off relatively peacefully despite a handful of shootings, the turnout was low at 41%—down from 44% in 2018’s ballot—pointing to widespread disillusionment with the political system.

Separately on Monday, the current leader, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said the country’s security forces captured a top Islamic State leader during an operation in Turkey.

Mr. Kadhimi said in a tweet that security forces had captured Sami Jasim, an official in charge of the militant group’s finances and a former deputy of the group’s slain leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr. Jasim was wanted by the U.S. government for organizing Islamic State’s illicit trade in oil, gas, antiquities and minerals. Those sources of revenue helped fuel the group’s rise as it took over a swath of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Fadhil Abu Radheef, a security analyst close to Iraq’s intelligence services, said Mr. Jasim, a former member of al Qaeda in Iraq, fled the country in 2017 and was arrested last week in cooperation with Turkish authorities. Turkish officials didn’t immediately comment on the arrest.

Islamic State lost its last foothold of territory in Syria in 2019 following years of military operations in both Iraq and Syria backed by the U.S. military and a separate campaign by Iranian-backed forces.

Mr. Kadhimi, who was appointed prime minister last year, didn’t run for reelection but has been positioning himself for possible reappointment in the talks that are expected to follow Sunday’s election.

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com

Record Low Turnout Reported for the Antichrist

Record Low Turnout Reported for Iraq’s Parliamentary Elections

HEADLINEOCT 11, 2021

Iraqis headed to the polls Sunday for just the fifth parliamentary election since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turnout was just 41%, with many Iraqis refusing to vote. This is Hussein Sabeh, a 20-year-old Iraqi from Basra.

Hussein Sabeh: “I did not vote, to be honest. It is not worth it. There is nothing that would benefit me or others. I see youth that have degrees and no jobs. Before the elections, they all came to them. After the elections, who knows?

Iraq’s vote in the Antichrist hoping for a change


Iraq’s parliamentary vote marred by boycott, voter apathy

Sunday, October 10th 2021, 12:15 AM EDTUpdated: Sunday, October 10th 2021, 4:06 PM EDT

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqis voted Sunday in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the voting was marked by widespread apathy and a boycott by many of the young activists who thronged the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces in late 2019. Tens of thousands of people took part in the mass protests and were met by security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured within just a few months.

Although authorities gave in and called the early elections, the death toll and the heavy-handed crackdown – as well as a string of targeted assassinations – prompted many who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of the vote.

Polls closed at 1500 GMT (1800 local time) following 11 hours of voting. Results are expected within the next 24 hours, according to the independent body that oversees Iraq’s election. But negotiations to choose a prime minister tasked with forming a government are expected to drag on for weeks or even months.

The election was the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that independent candidates from the protest movement stood a chance against well-entrenched parties and politicians, many of them backed by powerful armed militias.

Minutes after polls closed, fireworks organized by Baghdad’s municipality went off in the city’s landmark Tahrir Square, where demonstrators had set up tents for several months starting in October 2019. The protests fizzled out by February of the following year, due to the security crackdown and later, the coronavirus pandemic. 

Today, the square stands largely empty. The country faces huge economic and security challenges, and although most Iraqis long for change, few expect it to happen as a result of the elections.

Muna Hussein, a 22-year-old cinematic makeup artist, said she boycotted the election because she did not feel there was a safe environment “with uncontrolled weapons everywhere,” a reference to the mainly Shiite militias backed by neighboring Iran. 

“In my opinion, it isn’t easy to hold free and fair elections under the current circumstances,” she said. 

Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, disagreed. “I don’t want these same faces and same parties to return,” he said after casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karradah district.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose chances for a second term will be determined by the results of the election, urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers. 

“Get out and vote, and change your future,,” said al-Kadhimi, repeating the phrase, “get out” three times after casting his ballot at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.

Under Iraq’s laws, the winner of Sunday’s vote gets to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it’s unlikely any of the competing coalitions can secure a clear majority. That will require a lengthy process involving backroom negotiations to select a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government. It took eight months of political wrangling to form a government after the 2018 elections.

Groups drawn from Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims dominate the electoral landscape, with a tight race expected between Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, which came in second in the previous election.

The Fatah Alliance is comprised of parties and affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iran Shiite militias that rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group. It includes some of the most hard-line Iran-backed factions, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, a black-turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran, but publicly rejects its political influence.

Earlier Sunday, al-Sadr cast his ballot in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, swarmed by local journalists. He then drove away in a white sedan without commenting. Al-Sadr, a populist who has an immense following among Iraq’s working class Shiites, came out on top in the 2018 elections, winning a majority of seats. 

The election is the first since the fall of Saddam to proceed without a curfew in place, reflecting the significantly improved security situation in the country following the defeat of IS in 2017. Previous votes were marred by fighting and deadly bomb attacks that have plagued the country for decades.

More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and anti-terrorism forces fanned out and deployed outside polling stations, some of which were ringed by barbed wire. Voters were patted down and searched.

As a security precaution, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and scrambled its air force from Saturday night until early Monday morning. 

In another first, Sunday’s election is taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies — another demand of the activists who took part in the 2019 protests — and allows for more independent candidates.

The 2018 elections saw just 44% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a record low, and the results were widely contested. There are concerns of a similar or even lower turnout this time. 

In a tea shop in Karradah, one of the few open, candidate Reem Abdulhadi walked in to ask whether people had cast their vote. 

“I will give my vote to Umm Kalthoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” the tea vendor quipped, referring to the late Egyptian singer beloved by many in the Arab world. He said he will not take part in the election and didn’t believe in the political process. 

After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with her name and number in case he changed his mind. He put it in his pocket.

“Thank you, I will keep it as a souvenir,” he said.

At that moment, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead making a screeching noise. “Listen to this. This sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not an election,” he added.

___

Associated Press writer Abdulrahman Zeyad contributed reporting.

Antichrist who fought US offers himself as saviour in elections

An election poster of Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, northern Baghdad
An election poster of Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, northern BaghdadAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/GETTY

Iraq’s cleric who fought US offers himself as saviour in elections

As the nation votes today, the leader once described as his country’s most dangerous man may be the least bad option

In his office in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the politician Sadiq al-Sulaiti perched on a velvet sofa with crystal-studded cushions and expounded on his favourite subject: how his leader, the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was going to save Iraq from corruption, lawlessness and instability.

When the American-led coalition invaded 18 years ago, Sulaiti was a dedicated supporter of the “resistance”, led by Sadr, which fought against the occupiers and later engaged in sectarian warfare that left thousands dead. Since then Iraqis have experienced periods of stability as well as enduring years of internal conflict, including war against the Islamic State group, which controlled a third of the country at one point.

Now, as the Americans, who dominated the country from the Green Zone, prepare to withdraw

Antichrist’s men envision role as broker of next government

Iraqi supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr raise flags of their "Marching Toward Reform" electoral alliance during a campaign rally in the capital, Baghdad, on May 4, 2018.

Iraqi Sadrists envision role as broker of next government

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty ImagesOctober 8, 2021

Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon political bloc pledged on Sept. 30, to implement its program for state administration within three years if it wins the post of prime minister in the October 2021 elections. The pledge was made in front of Sadr’s residence in Kufa. The program includes building schools and hospitals, restricting arms to state institutions, ensuring social security, and advancing the agriculture and industry sectors.

The Sadrist movement has been sending to its opponents since Nov. 27 the message that it has the largest popular base and can mobilize its supporters in a demonstration calling for the movement to be tasked with forming a government.

On the external level, Sadr is seemingly seeking to show that his movement is a moderate and active political force.

However, Sadr’s enthusiasm is not devoid of concern and hesitation. And if the Sadrist movement is to be tasked with forming a cabinet, he said he does “not want to sacrifice the reputation of my fathers” — given that he comes from a Shiite religious family.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Sattar Jabbar, a member of parliament for Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance, justified his alliance’s quest. “Sairoon has been the largest bloc in all cycles, and we will be the largest bloc par excellence in these elections as well. This is what the street tells us. That is why the premiership needs to be a 100% Sadrist, and all necessary measures have been taken to make it a success domestically and abroad,” he said.

Political Leadership and Governance Development Academy head Abdul Rahman al-Jebouri, speaking to Al-Monitor, questioned the Sadrist movement’s ability to run a successful government. He said, “The internal reform that the Sadrist movement is calling for, and the recently announced program that is not up to the aspirations of the bloc’s supporters and members, does not offer the rest of the Iraqis the state of safety, freedoms and prosperity they aspire for.”

He added, “The Sadrists do not have the experience to manage the complex and thorny domestic situation. For many years, they have benefited from the state and have mastered blaming the governments for corruption, although a third of the state employees in charge of managing the institutions are affiliated with them. That is at the local level. Internationally, foreign relations involve the management of mutual interests between Iraq and the world, and the representation of a complex state in which the interests of the East and the West are intertwined and conflicting, let alone the interests of each of the Iraqi components. All of these are not tailored to the taste of the Sadrists.”

Jebouri noted, “We have not seen any Sadrist politician, parliamentarian or executive who excels in foreign relations so far. The movement’s positions are improvised.” He said “all of the above-mentioned reasons would result in a Sadrist government that is internally besieged and isolated from the outside world if they insist on leading it.”

However, Sadrist parliament member Sabah Akili told Al-Monitor there are no obstacles that would prevent the movement from being in charge of forming a cabinet. “The Sadrist movement is focusing on the premiership, considering it the way to reconstruction and ending corruption,” he said.

Commenting on the movement’s tactics, he stated, “We rely on our large popular base, our influence on the Iraqi arena and our relations with our future allies that we are coordinating with.”

Akili added that “the movement’s demand is not unfounded. It has 4 to 5 million supporters. It is a right that any party has the right to claim.”

“The movement worked on this goal long before the elections. Today, he is qualified to have the post of prime minister so as to bring about a radical and comprehensive change,” he said.

Yet things are not that simple, said Abbas Abboud, editor-in-chief of Iraq’s al-Sabah daily. He told Al-Monitor, “The chances of the Sadrist project’s success are subject to calculations. The designation of the prime minister in Iraq does not depend on the size of the parliamentary bloc. Rather, it depends on the alliances after the elections and a consensus between Tehran, Washington and Najaf.”

Commenting on the Sadrist movement’s claim for the post of prime minister, Ihsan al-Shammari, who heads the Iraqi Political Thinking Center, told Al-Monitor, “It is part of an electoral propaganda and messages sent to Shiite forces that they need to take into account the opinion of the movement regarding the figure that will be designated in this post.” Shammari added, “It is also a message to the Sunnis, the Kurds and the outside that the movement is an active force and that it is on the threshold of a new stage.”

“The Sadrist movement senses that there is an undeclared alliance seeking to disregard its opinion when choosing the prime minister,” Shammari said, adding, “The next prime minister will be selected based on a consensus.”

He noted that “the Sadrists are talking about reforms, but this program did not include any timeline or a work plan to do so. It is similar to all previous programs of other forces. This will not succeed unless there is a political will in favor of the next cabinet’s program.”

Ostensibly, the Sadrist movement is flexing its muscles ahead of the legislative electionsin order to make its voice heard, stress its presence and underscore that whatever the results, it will have the final say in the political process.

Iraqi Parliament dissolves in preparation of the Antichrist

Iraqi Parliament dissolved ahead of elections

Vote on Sunday is being held before the scheduled end of four-year term in response to protester demands for political change

Iraq’s Parliament was dissolved on Thursday, three days before an early general election on Sunday, Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi said.

The election will be the fifth to be held since the American-led invasion of 2003 that ended Saddam Hussein’s decades long dictatorship and brought in a complex political system that is dominated by parties based on sect or ethnicity.

“Today will be the end of the fourth parliamentary session, and the people will choose their representatives on the 10th of October,” Mr Al Halbousi said on Twitter.

He said the early election was “the people’s choice” and thanked members of parliament for their efforts.

Parliament voted in March to dissolve on October 7 “provided that the elections are held on schedule”.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi on Thursday called on Iraqis to turn out for the election.

“Our people have an opportunity to choose a new legislature, safeguard our nation and build our state,” he said on Twitter.

“Vote for those who represent you as proud Iraqis. Create change through your own free will.”

The early election was one of the main demands of anti-government protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 over rampant corruption, poor services, lack of employment opportunities and security.

The protests were met with deadly force by security forces who killed more than 600 demonstrators and injured over 20,000.

An electoral law that allowed a number of independent civil rights groups and political parties run for parliament. They are seen as opposition to the political class that has dominated governance of Iraq since 2003.

Mr Al Kadhimi promised to hold an early election after taking office in May last year.

He was appointed following the resignation of his predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in response to pressure from the protesters.

The protesters also called for the adoption of a new electoral law, which was ratified by Parliament last November, that allows independents to run for parliament for the first time since 2003.

The new law divides each of the country’s 18 provinces into electoral districts and prevents parties from running on unified lists, which helped them to sweep all the seats in a province in past elections. Instead, the seats will now go to whoever gets the most votes in an electoral district.

Who are the main contenders?

Powerful political parties linked to Iraq’s Shiite majority are expected to maintain their dominance in the 329-seat legislature. However, these groups are deeply divided over the influence of Iran on Iraq’s internal affairs.

Political parties formed by protesters are expected to win a few seats, but some are boycotting the election to protest against the system.

Women are guaranteed at least 83 seats in parliament under the new election law.

Who is expected to win?

The Sairoon alliance backed by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is expected to emerge once again as the biggest bloc in parliament.

Sairoon won 54 seats in the 2018 election, giving Mr Al Sadr considerable sway over the government’s formation and control over vital aspects of the state.

The cleric’s Sadrist Movement is running on a nationalist platform, seeking to set itself apart from Shiite groups allied to Iran.

The Iran-backed groups are also expected to win a large number of seats. The most influential group is the Fatah Alliance led by paramilitary leader Hadi Al Amiri, which got 48 seats in 2018.

A banner for a candidate is seen in Iraq’s second city of Mosul. Iraq’s elections will go ahead as planned on October 10, officials say. AFP 

The Fatah Alliance includes the political wing of Asaib Ahl Al Haq, which the United States has designated a terrorist group, and also represents the Badr Organisation, which has longstanding ties with Tehran and fought alongside Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Among the Sunni blocs, one of the most influential is the Taqaddum, or progress, alliance led by Mr Al Halbousi that includes leaders from the Sunni-majority north and west of Iraq.

Kurdish parties also play an important role in the government’s formation.

The two main groups are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates the government of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, which holds sway in areas along the border with Iran and is headquartered in Sulaimaniya.

The KDP won 25 seats in the 2018 election and the PUK won 18. They are expected to retain the lion’s share of Kurdish votes, followed by smaller parties. The total tally by seven Kurdish parties in 2018 was 58.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 6:37 AM

The Antichrist to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

Former U.S. foe likely to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

BAGHDAD — Framed beneath glaring floodlights, the Sadrist campaign rally bursts with noise and color. Supporters pump emerald flags aloft as an acolyte sings the candidate’s praises through tinny speakers.

“We don’t do politics like the others do,” he bellows. “Voting for the Sadrists will bring you hope.”

The local Sadrist candidate, Hakim al-Zamili, places his hand to his chest with a small smile. Then with a nod he is on his feet and striding toward the stage. Only one week left until our victory, he tells the cheering crowd.

As Iraq readies for parliamentary elections on Sunday, the sixth ballot since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion installed a new political system, it’s the party of renowned Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that looks set to be kingmaker. Taking the largest share of the Iraqi parliament’s 329 seats would mark the culmination of Sadr’s years-long effort to consolidate power at the ballot box, on the streets and throughout the civil service.

Sadr is a storied figure both here and abroad, with a history of agitation against U.S. troops after their invasion and often fierce loyalty from tens of thousands of pious and working-class followers.

But he is also something of a shape-shifter; in the years since 2003, the cleric has positioned himself variously as a sectarian militia leader, a revolutionary figure and a nationalist who can unify the country. At times he has relied on Iranian support, but today he publicly rejects the influence of Iraq’s most powerful neighbor.

Now, for the first time, his movement’s senior leadership say that they want to use their likely dominance, forecast by voter surveys, to choose the country’s prime minister.

“You can’t have a prime minister without the support of the Sadrists now,” said Nasser Al-Rubaie, head of the movement’s political wing. Across the spectrum, including in the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraqi politicians agree.

It remains unclear whether Sadr’s movement would maintain its current support for Kadhimi and back him for a second term in office. The ultimate decision would also require buy-in from powerful Iranian-backed and Kurdish political groupings.

Despite Sadr’s fraught history with the West, his party probably would ascend with at least tacit backing from Washington.

“They have sought increasing international legitimacy as a state-bearing party. This is why we’ve seen the Sadrists interacting much more with Western countries, including the Americans and the Europeans,” said Lahib Higel, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Sadr has been selling himself as a viable option, and a central one in Iraqi politics.”

 A senior Western official said, “I think at this point we view Sadr as a nationalist who is just better than the other options.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the press.

In recent months, the Sadrists have walked a more careful line than Iraqi parties aligned with Iran, which have called for the expulsion of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“We are against the existence of any foreign forces on Iraqi soil. When it comes to logistics support with training, equipment and airspace, that is not a political issue. We leave the decision on that to those who are specialized in these matters,” said Rubaie, indicating that a noncombat role for U.S. troops could be acceptable.

The Sadrists have cast themselves as the protector of a swath of Shiite working-class Iraqis. Sadr’s father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was a leading figure in the resistance against Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein and was killed for it. After the U.S.-led invasion, Sadr’s Mahdi Army won popular support for defying the American occupation.

Today, Sadr’s movement provides many supporters with jobs and services across ministries and businesses it controls, as well as employment in the ranks of its armed wing, Saraya al-Salam.

The Sadrists have consolidated their influence throughout the Iraqi government by taking control of key positions within the civil service. According to research by the London-based Chatham House think tank, Sadrist loyalists now hold the largest share of these positions, known as “special grades,” which has in turn allowed them to divert vast amount of public resources for the movement’s own purposes.

To ensure the money keeps flowing, the Sadrists have won control of the body that fills civil service positions, at times endorsing technocratic ministers without party affiliation who in practice have less authority than the civil servants below them.

“On day one, I realized that there were just stacks of contracts that they were waiting for me to sign,” said one such former minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his security. “They just wanted the rubber stamp.”

Over the years, Sadr’s group has been accused by government officials and human rights monitors of widespread abuses. During the civil war, the Mahdi Army ran death squads. Zamili, the political candidate, was imprisoned for allegedly using his position as health minister to divert resources for sectarian kidnapping and murder. More recently, Saraya al-Salam, have been accused of extortion and assassinating political opponents.

The Sadrists are the dominant force in the Health Ministry, and this summer, Sadr briefly withdrew from the election campaign amid a public uproar after a pair of hospital fires in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah incinerated two wards of coronavirus patients. Corrupt government contracting, blamed on the Sadrists, has routinely left major hospitals without fire safety measures, according to researchers.

Kadhimi has hailed the decision to call early parliamentary elections as a response to street protests urging the overthrow of the political system. Security forces quashed those demonstrations with deadly force, killing more than 600 people in a matter of months.

Trust between Iraq’s people and its politicians has cratered over recent years, and turnout at the polls is likely to be among the lowest in the country’s history, according to voter surveys.

Even the Sadrists seem concerned. On Sunday, a somber-faced Sadr made a rare public appearance alongside one of the movement’s candidates. Hours later, he tweeted that every voter should bring 10 more with them to the polls.

“Sadrist electoral tactics have been particularly aggressive this election campaign, indicating a slight desperation within the movement over disillusionment, particularly among the younger generation of Sadrists,” said Ben Robin-D’Cruz, a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark who studies the group.

At Zamili’s rally in Baghdad’s sprawling district of Sadr City last week, supporters said that he and the Sadrist movement he’s part of would provide them a greater sense of dignity and belonging than other political groups.

“No one else can save Iraq,” Hayder al-Helfi, 47, commented as he picked through the crowd that had gathered on the turf pitch.

Amal Latif, a 40-year-old widow and mother of four, said that Zamili was known in the neighborhood for opening his house to supporters so they could ask for help with their problems. “We’re so poor, we need help from someone,” she said, clutching the Sadrists’ emerald flag to her chest. A campaign staffer stood close by her as she spoke. He later said that she had been paid to attend the rally.

As the event wound down and supporters flooded to the exits, the floodlights glared brighter than anything else on the streets around them. The streetlights were out. Cars edged past potholes. In the darkness, volunteers dressed in party tabards were laying the stones for a new sidewalk while a former voter watched on.

“They always do this around election time,” sighed Ahmed Ali, a government worker. “Let’s see what they do for this place after the elections.”

Antichrist’s Men seek to consolidate political power in vote

Hussein Muanis, the leader of a political movement called "Harakat Huqooq," Arabic for Rights Movement, center, salutes his supporters at an election rally before the upcoming parliamentary elections in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Muanis is the leader of Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the most hard-line and powerful militias with close ties to Iran, who once battled U.S. troops. He is the first to be openly affiliated with Kataeb Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, signaling the militant group’s formal entry into politics. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq’s militias seek to consolidate political power in vote

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated Press OCTOBER 5, 2021 — 12:55PM

BAGHDAD — Among the candidates running in Iraq’s general elections this week is a leader in one of the country’s most hard-line and powerful militias with close ties to Iran who once battled U.S. troops.

Hussein Muanis joins a long list of candidates from among Iran-backed Shiite factions vying for parliament seats. But he is the first to be openly affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, signaling the militant group’s formal entry into politics.

The group is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations and is accused by U.S. officials of targeting American forces in Iraq. Muanis himself was jailed by the Americans for four years from 2008 to 2012 for fighting U.S. troops.

“Our entrance into politics is a religious obligation. I battled the occupiers militarily and now I will battle them politically,” he said, speaking to The Associated Press recently in his office in central Baghdad.

Muanis, 50, says he has given up his militia fatigues in favor of politics. He now heads a political movement called “Harakat Huqooq,” or Rights Movement, which is fielding 32 candidates and an electoral program stressing the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Kataib Hezbollah group has been struck by U.S. forces near the Iraq-Syria border several times. In December 2019, the U.S. carried out strikes targeting military sites belonging to the group after blaming it for a rocket barrage that killed a U.S. defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Around 20 militiamen were killed.

Harakat Huqooq’s campaign advertisements decorate the streets of Shiite dominated areas in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Iraq is holding elections on Oct. 10, the fifth parliamentary vote since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, which shifted the country’s power base from minority Arab Sunnis to majority Shiites. The vote was brought forward by one year in response to mass protests that broke out in late 2019 over endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.

While a new electoral law has allowed more independents to run, Shiite groups continue to dominate the electoral landscape with a tight race expected between pro-Iran parties and their militias — the largest of which is the Fatah alliance — and the political bloc of Shiite nationalist heavyweight Moqtada al-Sadr, the biggest winner in the 2018 elections.

The Fatah alliance includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella group for mostly pro-Iran state-sanctioned militias, including Kataib Hezbollah. But the group has lost some popularity following the 2019 protests, with activists accusing hard-line armed factions of brutally suppressing protesters by using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Protesters demanding change and reform were also often railing against Iran’s heavy-handed interferences in Iraqi politics. More than 600 were killed and thousands injured during the months-long protests.

Analysts say the entry of Kataib Hezbollah — the group is separate from the Lebanese group of the same name — might be an attempt by Iran to strengthen its allies inside Iraq’s parliament.

Bassam al-Qazwini, a Baghdad-based political analyst, said after the 2019 protest movement Iran pushed for hard-liners to go into politics.

“Harakat Huqooq opens the door for hard-line factions to enter the realm of politics and the parliament building,” he said, adding that he did not expect them to win a lot of seats.

Muanis, a slender man who sports a light beard, said his reasons for entering politics is the people’s disappointment with the current political situation and politicians’ failure to implement reform.

“So we are participating in order to bring about change,” he said. If he wins, he says he will work from inside parliament on “regaining Iraqi sovereignty by having the occupier leave,” he said of the Americans.

Asked about the proliferation of arms outside state control, he said: “Whenever the occupation is no longer there then we can discuss it. Then there would be no need to bear arms.”

Will Iraq’s election expose US-Saudi endorsement of the Antichrist’s drive to impose a prime minister?

Posters of parties and candidates participating in the early general election race in Kirkuk, Iraq on 2 October 2021 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]

Will Iraq’s election expose US-Saudi endorsement of Sadr’s drive to impose a prime minister?

Zayd AlisaJanuary 15, 2021

Posters of parties and candidates participating in the early general election race in Kirkuk, Iraq on 2 October 2021 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]October 5, 2021 at 2:53 pm 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Despite US President Joe Biden’s scathing criticism of his predecessor’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has not shied away from implementing them. In Afghanistan, he stuck to Trump’s troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. Following the Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul, Biden blamed Afghanistan’s corrupt government and army.

In Iraq, Biden – just like Trump – has made no secret of the fact that he is hell-bent on keeping US troops in the country even though they are targeted persistently by militias belonging to the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a government controlled alliance of predominantly Shia and Iran-backed groups which answered Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s call to fight Daesh in 2014. The PMF demand the unconditional withdrawal of US forces in compliance with the vote in Iraq’s parliament on 5 January last year. The vote was organised after Donald Trump ordered the assassination at Baghdad Airport of General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the deputy leader of the PMF.

The rapid collapse of the Afghan army is similar to the swift unravelling of Iraq’s US-trained army in the face of the Daesh advance on Mosul in 2014. Both were trained in such a way that made them completely reliant on US air cover and logistical support. This has been employed repeatedly by the US as political leverage, compelling both governments to toe Washington’s line.

Even though Iraq’s unelected Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi — who came to power in May 2020 after waves of protests forced his predecessor, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, to resign — has kept his pledge to stay out of the early election scheduled for 10 October, he has been working tirelessly to secure a second term. Clearly, Kadhimi is aware that going to the polls means a humiliating defeat, given that the same underlying causes –rampant corruption, chronic electricity and water shortages, and widespread unemployment – that sparked the October 2019 protests have worsened dramatically. He has also failed to fulfil his own pledge to bring to justice those in the security forces responsible for killing 600 protesters, and rein-in militias, including the PMF.

As part of the aggressive Trump-inspired strategy sponsored by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Iraq and not Syria has become the central battleground for rolling back Iranian influence in the region. Former US Envoy to Iraq Brett McGurk managed successfully after the 2018 parliamentary election to forge a coalition of Shia political blocs headed by Muqtada Al-Sadr, Ammar Al-Hakim and ex-Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. It was Soleimani who derailed the attempts to install a US–friendly prime minister.

Buoyed by Soleimani’s assassination, Hakim, Sadr and Abadi scrambled to revive their alliance. They also conspired with Iraqi President Barham Salih to promote Kadhimi’s premiership and simultaneously thwart attempts by Iran-friendly political leaders, namely Hadi Al-Amiri, Nouri Al-Maliki and Qais Al-Khazali, to appoint an Iran-backed prime minister.

Biden’s embrace of such a strategy incentivised Kadhimi to double down on his efforts to wean Iraq off Iran and steer it into the US-Saudi orbit. The prime minister also sought to bolster his position internationally and regionally by presenting himself as a neutral mediator. His overriding priority on the international front has been to gain Biden’s endorsement. To this end, Kadhimi has striven to bring the PMF under control, hoping that this will reduce attacks on US interests. Hence, he ordered the arrest on 26 May of Qasim Mosleh Al-Khafaji, a commander of the PMF in Anbar province. This operation was identical to the detention in June last year of 14 members of the umbrella movement.

While on both occasions Kadhimi had to back down after the PMF stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, he exploited both operations successfully to get a meeting first with Trump and then with Biden. Even before meeting Biden, Kadhimi ruled out requesting a full US withdrawal. “What we want from the US presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and security cooperation,” he told Associated Press on 25 July.

Biden handed Kadhimi a symbolic victory by telling reporters on 26 July that, “Our role in Iraq will be to continue to train, to assist and to deal with [Daesh], but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission.” Neither Biden nor Kadhimi defined what was meant by combat forces, yet this declaration has so far eased tensions between Kadhimi and the PMF and also reduced attacks against US troops, thus easing some of the pressure on Biden.

At the top of Kadhimi’s regional agenda has been the mollification of Riyadh. Against this backdrop he decided, in July 2020, to make Saudi Arabia rather than Iran his first overseas destination. He aimed to address Riyadh’s outrage that the balance of power in Iraq has tilted in Iran’s favour. At that time, however, Bin Salman’s overarching goal was pushing Trump to take decisive military action against Iran and so he refused to meet Kadhimi. With Biden in the White House, though, Saudi hopes of using force against Iran have been scuppered, for now.Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Faced with the unpalatable prospect of a potential breakthrough in the Vienna negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, King Salman invited Kadhimi to visit Riyadh on 31 March. He received Bin Salman’s blessing to host direct mid-level negotiations with Iran in Baghdad.

The holding of four rounds of talks under Kadhimi’s supervision of – the latest was on 29 September — looks like part of a concerted Saudi campaign to help the Iraqi prime minister to tighten his tenuous grip on power while also reflecting Bin Salman’s urgent need to end the futile war in Yemen. To showcase his leadership, Kadhimi organised a regional summit on 28 August in Baghdad, in concert with French President Emmanuel Macron, which ostensibly aimed to ease regional tension. In reality, it sought to warn the Iraqi people discreetly that removing Kadhimi means forfeiting economic support.

On the internal front Kadhimi’s staunchest support has come from Sadr, who leads the biggest parliamentary bloc and holds a lot of clout on the ground. Although the Sadrist movement claimed that it joined the 2019 protests to promote its leader’s anti-corruption drive, in practice the chief objective was to block the appointment of any prime minister who does not pledge loyalty to Sadr. The focus, however, shifted to dispersing protesters violently after Sadr bullied Amiri – head of the second largest bloc in parliament – into approving Kadhimi’s premiership somewhat grudgingly.

In return, Kadhimi opened the door for the Sadrists to appoint their loyal members in every state institution, specifically targeting senior positions that control state wealth, therefore empowering Sadr to run the show. With Sadr firmly in control, he accused his Iran-backed rivals in April of stoking tensions with the US to avoid an early election. Despite Sadr’s repeated promises to wage an inexorable war on corruption, a Sadrist-controlled government has failed spectacularly to do so.

Nonetheless, Kadhimi tried frantically on 9 May to exonerate Sadr from responsibility after a hospital fire killed scores in Baghdad by blaming himself. “The only thing Sadr asked from me was to take care of Iraq,” explained the prime minister. “Sadr has no ministers in government nor does he control the government.”

However, when a second hospital fire broke out in Nasiriya on 12 July, Sadr announced three days later that he will not take part in the election. As ever his move was a ploy to dilute public anger. He endeavoured to postpone the election, seeking more time to disentangle himself from what is widely perceived as the worst government since 2003. Given that Sadr was on the back foot, though, his rivals were adamant, and refused to change the election date. This forced him to make a screeching U-turn: “We will enter these elections with vigour and determination to save Iraq from occupation and corruption,” he announced in August.

In stark contrast to Sadr’s fiery rhetoric against the US presence in Iraq, in reality he desperately needs the Americans to be there as a deterrent to Iran-backed groups. The US also needs Sadr to put a brake on Iranian expansion.

Al-Sistani’s call last week for a high election turnout will turn the tables on Sadr, who thrives on low turnouts, which generally do not affect his support base.

Iraq’s general election is happening with confidence in the political system at rock-bottom. As anticipated, the most vicious contest to determine who names the next prime minister, will be between a US-Saudi backed Shia coalition – consisting of Sadr, Hakim and Abadi – and an Iran-aligned coalition – Amiri, Maliki and Khazali – thereby turning Iraq’s Shia heartland into the principal battleground for their conflicting interests.

However, while Sadr has vowed that Iraq’s next leader will be a Sadrist, in fact this is just a bargaining chip to coerce his opponents into countenancing a continuation of the Kadhimi premiership. As such, the US and Saudi Arabia will endorse Sadr’s drive to impose Iraq’s prime minister by diktat, even if it has the potential to precipitate the disintegration of Iraq’s fragile democracy hot on the heels of the unravelling of Afghanistan’s democratic experience. Both, remember, will be on Biden’s watch.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.