A political alliance led by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is moving ahead to form a majority government without the participation of the rival Shia Co-ordination Framework coalition, which comprises pro-Iran parties.
Al-Sadr's Triple Alliance -- now known as the Alliance to Save the Nation -- consists of Sadrist, Sunni and Kurdish political groups.
On March 23, the alliance announced it had created the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, which gives it the constitutional right to form a government.
But before that can happen, Iraqi lawmakers must first elect a new national president, who appoints the new head of government.
A third attempt to elect a president failed Wednesday (March 30) because of a Shia Co-ordination Framework coalition boycott.
The Alliance to Save the Nation has nominated Kurdish politician Reber Ahmed for president, and Iraqi ambassador to Britain Jaafar al-Sadr (al-Sadr's cousin) for the prime minister position.
In order to ensure that two-thirds of Iraqi MPs vote for the government he intends to form, al-Sadr has courted a large number of MPs to overcome the Shia Co-ordination Framework's opposition.
There are indications that the new al-Sadr alliance has broken the political impasse, despite the objection of the Shia Co-ordination Framework and its call for a "consensus government" in which its members would have positions.
Independents' political power
Independents -- who have formed an alliance for the first time -- have emerged as a political force whose role cannot be overlooked in Iraq, writer and political analyst Ali al-Baydar told Al-Mashareq.
As a "third party", he said, this group provides a counterbalance in Iraqi politics, as a widening rift between al-Sadr's alliance and the Shia Co-ordination Framework has prevented these groups from reaching an agreement.
Independent MPs emerged after the protest movement began in October 2019, when Iraqis found they were faced with undesirable options to choose from.
The independent MPs are concerned about the al-Sadr alliance's possible failure to implement the reforms they have promised, undermining their image and power among their constituents, al-Baydar said.
Yet if they join forces with the majority -- al-Sadr's Alliance to Save the Nation -- they may inadvertently place themselves in danger, he said, referring to recent attacks on the offices of al-Sadr's Sunni and Kurdish allies.
Iran-aligned armed groups are accused of carrying out these attacks.
Al-Baydar said the option of remaining independent is not really viable for the bloc, as this would serve the interest of the Shia Co-ordination Framework, "which does not want the Sadrist government to see the light of day".
Keeping an independent position may backfire on the MPs in that bloc, he said, by triggering accusations that they are aiding the Iran-allied parties that comprise the Shia Co-ordination Framework.
Some independent MPs have responded to al-Sadr's call, however, and the Shia cleric thanked them in a March 23 Twitter post for putting "the nation's interest above their own".
Al-Baydar said the relationship between Sadrists and the Shia Framework has reached a fork in the road, after multiple disagreements between them, including over fighting corruption and citizens' right to bear arms in public.
Tipping the balance in favour of a majority government would be a huge setback for Iran and its proxies, observers said.
This would undermine Iran's aspiration to meddle in Iraq's decision-making process and diminish the power of Iran-backed armed groups, as al-Sadr has repeatedly called on such groups to disarm or join the Iraqi army.
Public demands true reform
Al-Mustansiriya University politics professor Issam al-Fayli said the natural outcome of any election is the emergence of a government and an opposition that monitors the government's performance.
"We have to admit that the form of governance that the traditional Shia forces want to recycle -- through the formation of a consensus government -- has brought nothing but political failure," he said.
The leaders of the Shia Co-ordination Framework have acknowledged as much, he added, noting that moving ahead with the majority government is a sign of maturity in political action, which is imposed by public pressure.
"Today we have an important actor on the scene, namely the public, which is demanding real reform that ends its suffering and restores the state's prestige and sovereignty," al-Fayli said.
Most important, he said, those who take on the responsibility of government must have the courage and bear the burden to build the state and accept that no one is above the law or Iraq's national interest.
In all likelihood, he added, the Shia Co-ordination Framework would not be able to achieve its goals, as it would need two-thirds of the parliament members to pass its agenda.
But it is necessary to clear the path for political dialogue among all parties in Iraq, he said.