“Whale parties” have the upper hand in Iraq’s election: where does Sistani stand? Are the winners in Iran’s pocket? Where does the US stand?

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Key words: Iraq, Iran, Sistani, Soleimani, USA.

Elijah J. Magnier: 

Not many years back, US official and pioneer analyst, Bruce Hoffman, predicted, like many other analysts, ISIS’s victory in Mesopotamia and the partition of the country.

This failed to happen not because the US’s failed to defeat ISIS but because the terrorist group’s long-term presence was needed, for various reasons not the subject of this article. No one predicted the unique role of the Marjaiya in Najaf, nor the Iranian desire to defeat Wahhabi Salafi Takferee in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon so that these don’t move close to Tehran.

Today, the Iraqi people have paid for their freedom with their own blood and sacrifices. Today – and certainly not the 2003 US occupation – is the real Iraqi day of independence, they who defeated ISIS thanks to the Marjaiya, represented by the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani.

Nevertheless, the road is still long before Iraqis reach real representation in the Parliament because Mesopotamia is still under the control of “whale parties” (strongest groups and organisations) who will form the next parliament and afterwards a government with a  political majority to lead the country.

24 million Iraqis (out of 36 million) are eligible to vote in 18 provinces for 329 seats in the parliament to elect their Prime Minister, Speaker and President. There are 9 seats allocated for minorities (Christians, Sabia, Yazidi, Shabak and Kurd Fayli). These provinces are: Baghdad (71 seats), Nineveh (34 seats), Basrah (25 seats), Dhi-Qar (19 seats), Soleimaniyeh (18 seats), Babil (17 seats), Erbil (16 seats), Anbar (15 seats), Diyala (14 seats), Kirkuk (13 seats), Salahoddine (12 seats), Najaf (12 seats), Duhuq (12 seats), Waset (11 seats), Diwaniyeh (11 seats) Karbala (11 seats) Misan (10 seats) and Muthanna (7 seats).

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What is Sayyed Sistani’s position?

No one can argue about who saved Iraq: the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani and his Fatwa of “Jihad al-Kifa’ei” mobilising the population for Jihad. It was not the US nor Iran. Of course, it is still vivid in the memory of Iraqis that President Barak Obama intentionally delayed in 2014 any support to the Iraqi central government when ISIS occupied Mosul and reached the limits of Baghdad. ISIS stopped only because its militants ran out of gasoline, otherwise the road towards Najaf and Karbalaa presented little resistance then.

However, the US played a positive role, later, in using its intelligence, Air Force and military support to defeat ISIS in Iraq but only to avoid seeing the country falling in the arms of Iran. As a matter of fact, Iran was the first in responding to the call of Baghdad and Erbil, providing the central government and Kurdistan with weapons, advisors, training and intelligence. Iran was also partner, along with the Lebanese Hezbollah, to the victory of Iraq over terrorism.

Nevertheless, the Marjaiya feels the electoral law that gives the upper hand to “whale parties” (Ahzab al-Hitan as called by Iraqi) over small groups or successful individuals is unjust.

Sayyed Sistani asked every Iraqi to vote but he recommends no one to vote for. A big part of the population blame him for it request him to suggest a name or group they can support. Sayyed Sistani doesn’t want to carry the burden of recommending a person or group, he knows that incompetence and corruption are prevailing.

Sayyed Sistani rejects the return to power of any form of dictatorship, even if he could be “a positive dictator who is so pure, falling from the sky”. The Grand Ayatollah would like to see an electoral law which gives every single citizen the right to have a seat at the parliament without necessarily having to join a “whale group”.

Sayyed Sistani is aware that every Iraqi is first concerned about “Dabbat Ghaz” (LPG storage gas tanks), Tanakat Naft (gasoline), water, electricity and security. However, he believes a financial and political plan are needed to hold the country together, establish good relationships with all its neighbours free from any foreign influence, and a corruption-free government willing to offer basic services and rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by war.

The Marjaiya fears the day when “people will no longer listen”.

“There will come a time when we need to put our turban in a bag and leave (nhot al emama bi ‘allaga wa nushrud)”, believes the Marjaiya. Iraqis followed the Grand Ayatollah Sistani to the letter on a religious and ideological basis when they responded to his call to defend Iraq It is this same ideology that allowed Iraqis to have even 6 martyrs in the same home (brothers and even father all killed in the battlefield against ISIS). However, people want Sayyed Sistani to order them to vote for one or more candidates. This is the dilemma because Sistani believes in none. The Marjaiya has asked Iraqis to “use their brain to elect the most adequate candidates”.

One day I asked Sayyed Sistani why he didn’t recommend a candidate for Prime Minister he told me: “From where can we find someone who is more adequate? Is there a best candidate? Maku (we can’t find one). This is what is available”.

 There is an Iraqi saying: “I want a fresh hot but old and dry bread”. This to indicate that finding the right person is almost an impossible goal.

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Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who chucked two shoes at then President George W. Bush in protest of US military presence in Iraq is running for parliament in the Iraqi elections.

Abu Muntazar al-Najafi told me he voted today for a candidate whose family is established in the city, rich and work hard but steals less than others. “Everybody is corrupt” he said. The real hunt is to find someone who robs less than others but at the same offers services to people. Therefore, Iraqis look for the less worse among the baddies!

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But is Iran in total control of main candidates?

There is no doubt that Iraq and Iran have many strong relationships in common. The majority of Iraqis are Shia, and that imposes a continuous link and connection between both countries due to the presence of the Shia Imams – related to the Prophet Mohammad – in both Iran and Iraq. Religious tourism is important and represents billions of dollars of income to both countries.

Iraqis consider the love for Iran like eating fish (an Iraqi say): “Ma’qul…Mazmoum” which means you like it, you eat it but you want to get rid of its remains quickly. Mesopotamia will not offer obedience to Iran even if it fights with its sword. This is a hint to leaders of Shia groups:

  • Grand Ayatollah Sistani: The Marjaiya in Najaf rejects any Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, particularly in the selection of the Prime Minister. Sayyed Sistani wrote, in a very rare step, a letter stating he refused to see Nuri al-Maliki on top of the government for a third term, giving space for another candidate to come forward. The Marjaiya considers Iran made many mistakes in Iraq for its lack of understanding of the Iraqi dynamics. Even so, Sayyed Sistani didn’t take decisions against the strategic interests of Iran, like any other Prime Minister in office. The Grand Ayatollah would like to see both Iran and the US take their hands off Iraq completely.
  • Haidar al-Abadi: The Prime Minister was confronted with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qassem Soleimani the day he was elected. Soleimani wanted to change him and rejected his nomination. Even one year later, Soleimani was trying to replace Abadi, to the open knowledge of the Prime Minister. Tension was high between both men until, a few months ago, Soleimani was convinced Abadi should be elected for a second term.
  • Hadi al-Ameri: He fought in the Iran-Iraq war among the Pasdaran. However, al-Ameri stood against Hezbollah overtly the day a deal with ISIS was reached where Hezbollah and Syria agreed to relocate 30,000 militants to Deir-ezzour. Moreover, Ameri refused Soleimani’s request to join Abadi in a single list before the election to avoid giving the upper hand to the Prime Minister and force his hand during the negotiation after the results of the elections.
  • Nuri al-Maliki: He was wrongly considered Iran’s man for many years. Actually this is very wrong. Iran accepted al-Maliki only because he enjoyed a strong personality and was capable of standing up to the American establishment and asking the US president to leave Mesopotamia. Adel Abdel Mahdi or Ayad Allawi were not of this stuff. Al-Maliki, despite his initial approval to join all Shia groups in one coalition and share the power, ignored his promises and was disliked by both Shia and Sunni. Iran was happy to see the US forces out of Mesopotamia, unaware that it was preparing to return through the window, with ISIS as an excuse. Also, al-Maliki (who considers himself the “father of Hashd al-Sha’bi) felt betrayed by Soleimani when the Iranian commander asked al-Ameri to join al-Abadi, eliminating any chances for al-Maliki to be a Prime Minister.
  • Moqtada al-Sadr: Despite his escape to Iran for fear of being assassinated by the US in 2006, Moqtada never submitted to Soleimani. He has never accepted any orders or instructions from Iran. On the contrary, when he was in Qom, he travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet prince Bandar bin Sultan, to the total disapproval of Soleimani. Moqtada visited Saudi Arabia and the Emirates when the relationship between Iran and the Gulf countries was at its worse stage. Also, Moqtada’s relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon is very ordinary, he is considered a rebel with no strategy.
  • Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim: He is the son of the Marjaiya (Sayyed Abdel Aziz al-Hakim and before him Sayyed Mohsen al-Hakim). He believes Iran divided al-Majlis al-A’la when BADR decided to split and run solo. He also considers Iran responsible for isolating him and counts on his family’s reputation.

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Thus, the “al-Nasr” list of Haidar al-Abadi, “Al-Fateh” of Hadi al-Ameri, “Sairoun” of Moqtada al-Sadr, “Dawlat al-Qanoun” of Nouri al-Maliki, “al-Hikma” of Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim and “Wataniya” for Ay’ad Allawi are expected, in this order perhaps, to be the ones who will gather the most Shia votes.

There will be no individual list capable of reaching a minimum of 80 out of 329 seats in the parliament. Therefore, any of these heads of list will be forced to join his list with one or two or more lists among the Shia, or perhaps among the 4 Sunni or 4 Kurdish lists to be eligible for the position of Prime Minister.

Even if Abadi manages to gather 50-60 seats, he needs other list leaders to join him. The game is not oriented in favour of al-Maliki or al-Ameri or Abadi. Actually, Abadi is not considered the one who liberated Iraq: it is the Marjaiya. Moreover, for his strike against the Kurds Abadi is accused of being worse than al-Maliki, concerning Kirkuk and on all crossing borders. Here, Al-Maliki is more in an advantaged position.

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As far as the US is concerned, no one takes into consideration what Washington likes or dislikes. In fact, many Iraqi leaders consider any US interference in the post-election dialogue will be counterproductive to any candidate supported by the American establishment.

While waiting for the results of this post-result negotiation (with certainly less than 50% participation), all eyes are focussed on Mesopotamia, a country with a key role in the mounting tension of the Middle East. The Middle East today is an area whose principal and most dangerous characteristic is that there is no safety net of any kind protecting it from the most extreme possibilities.

Proof reading: Maurice Brasher

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