Iraq News

Iraq at perilous crossroads after al-Sadr's withdrawal

By Faris al-Omran

A photo shows Iraqi Parliament members before lawmakers of the Sadrist bloc had resigned. [Iraqi Parliament]

A photo shows Iraqi Parliament members before lawmakers of the Sadrist bloc had resigned. [Iraqi Parliament]

Iraq has been at a political crossroads since Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's 73-member bloc resigned from parliament earlier this month, in an unprecedented move that appears to clear the way for Iran's allies to form a government.

The mass resignation came eight months after the parliamentary elections, during which both Shia blocs, the Sadrist movement and the Iran-affiliated Shia Co-ordination Framework, failed to form a majority bloc in parliament.

Al-Sadr -- whose bloc won the highest number of seats in parliament in the elections -- initially set out to form a majority government with Sunni and Kurdish political groups, without the rival Shia Co-ordination Framework.

He nominated his cousin, politician Jaafar al-Sadr, for the post of prime minister.

Iraqi cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr meets in Najaf with members of his parliamentary coalition after they resigned from parliament. [Iraqi News Agency]

Iraqi cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr meets in Najaf with members of his parliamentary coalition after they resigned from parliament. [Iraqi News Agency]

He also announced his intention to implement a government programme to fight corruption, contain the Iran-backed militias and end foreign interference in the Iraqi decision-making process.

But al-Sadr's ambitions were strongly opposed by the Shia Co-ordination Framework, which sought to restore the status quo: a consensus government based on the system of sectarian alliances and ethnic power sharing.

This is the direction most favourable to Tehran, which seeks to ensure the continuity of its influence in Iraq.

Mass resignation

During an extraordinary session of parliament on June 23, alternative representatives from the Shia Co-ordination Framework were sworn in to replace the Sadrist movement parliamentarians who had stepped aside.

This gave the pro-Iran bloc the largest majority in Iraq's parliament, and seems likely to lead to the formation of a Shia Co-ordination Framework government.

If such a government is formed, it "won't last more than a few months", Arab Tribal Council secretary-general Sheikh Thaer al-Bayati predicted.

It will suffer the same fate as the government of former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, which was toppled as a result of the grassroots protest movement that began in October 2019, he told Al-Mashareq.

Some members of the Shia Co-ordination Framework, including the Alliance of National State Forces, led by Ammar al-Hakim, refuse to move ahead with the formation of a government without the participation of al-Sadr's bloc.

The Victory Alliance, led by former premier Haider al-Abadi, shares this stance.

Meanwhile, the Sadrists' departure has raised the hopes of other Shia Co-ordination Framework members, such as the State of Law Coalition, which wants to name its leader, Nouri al-Maliki (a rival of al-Sadr), as prime minister.

Al-Maliki previously served two terms in office in that role.

With his decision to exit the political arena, al-Sadr sought to totally distance himself from the Iranian agenda, al-Bayati said.

He noted that through its affiliates in Iraq, Iran has sought over the past months to obstruct the emergence of a strong government that constrains its interests and its detrimental interferences in Iraq.

He added that al-Sadr previously had put forth several initiatives to resolve the crisis, including abandoning efforts to form a government, thus conceding that task to his rivals.

As Iran's proxies continued to exert pressure, however, al-Sadr finally announced that he would not partner with corrupt parties that protect the corrupt, who only know the language of weapons and violate security and national sovereignty.

So he chose to withdraw and align with the people, who are angry at the political system's failure to provide public services, address poverty, unemployment and the proliferation of drugs and weapons, al-Bayati said.

Iraq at 'critical stage'

A day before the session to select the replacements for Sadrist MPs, al-Sadr issued a statement accusing "Iran's arms" of committing political violations against the judiciary and pressuring independents and non-Shia blocs.

But he denied that his withdrawal came in response to the "Iranian threat".

"I withdrew from participating with them in finishing off what was left of Iraq," he said, calling on political blocs to "take a brave stance for the sake of reform and saving the country, and not submit to their sectarian pressures".

The political situation in Iraq is at a critical stage, Al-Mustansiriya University political science professor Issam al-Fayli told Al-Mashareq.

This calls for all to pursue the path of negotiations and make efforts to bring their positions closer in order to overcome the crisis, he said.

This can be done by adopting initiatives agreed upon by all parties that eventually will lead to the emergence of a government that puts the interests of the people first and in which there is no place for the corrupt, he said.

Al-Fayli said plunging the country into a dark tunnel would not be in the interest of any of the political parties, including the Shia Co-ordination Framework.

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