Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
There is no doubt that Iran made mistakes in its dealings with the Iraqis, and quite obviously it hasn’t reviewed its overall approach towards what is the largest Shia community in the Middle East on its own borders. This is reflected in the election results.
New coalitions are under discussion today between the largest groups who won the majority of parliamentary seats, where some of these are taking into consideration the people’s opinion about limiting Iran’s influence and reducing the influence of allies in the new government.
However, the two biggest coalitions that are expected – one led by Moqtada al-Sadr and the other led by Hadi al-Ameri – are not that straightforward since those invited to join these coalitions are far from being in harmony among themselves. In both cases, whoever wins among the two strongest coalitions, the US is far from being a winner. Neither Moqtada nor Ameri don’t see Washington with a good eye.
However, there is no doubt about one thing: the future Iraqi parliament will host a largest number of militias or those under the militias’ control. Moqtada al-Sadr managed to gather over 54 seats and Asaeb Ahl al-Haq over 17 seats (within the al-Fath organisation with a total of 50-51 seats).
Still, the last word has not been said and it is still unknown who will be able to form the largest coalition to win the leadership of the new Iraqi government.
Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr and his alliance with the Communist party won the largest number of parliamentary seats as a single group with 55 seats (final number is not official yet). Haidar al-Abadi (51 seats) comes second, the BADR and ex-Hashd al-Shabi leader Hadi al-Ameri comes third (50 seats) followed by Nuri al-Maliki fourth with 25 seats, Ay’yad Allawi with 22 seats and Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim 19-20 seats.
It doesn’t mean Sayyed Moqtada will decide who is the future Prime Minister. However, the possibility exists if a coalition is formed including al-Sadr, Abadi, al-Hakim, and one or two Sunni and Kurds coalitions (without excluding smaller groups who could join the bigger coalitions). In this case, the next prime minister will be under Moqtada’s influence and will pursue a policy of isolating Iran entirely from Iraqi politics and will embrace a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. This, if it happens, seems pleasing to many in the street, including the Marjaiya (the highest religious Shia authority) of Najaf.
However, although Moqtada has invited Masoud Barzani to join his coalition, the Kurdish leader has difficulties joining a coalition that includes Haidar Abadi. Moqtada also invited Ayad Allawi and Speaker Usama al-Nujeifi to join his coalition. What Moqtada is perhaps not aware of, is the fact that all Iraqi groups fear his Saraya al-Salam, ex Jaish al-Mahdi ( (not disbanded to date), and their reputation for being brutal and uncontrollable – like their leader!
Two years ago, Moqtada ordered his supporters to storm the most protected “Green Zone” in Baghdad (hosting all ministries and embassies) just to “pull the Prime Minister’s ear”, as Moqtada confessed later, while the war against ISIS was at a critical stage. He is not less of an Islamist or a neo-nationalist but strongly driven by his hate to Iran and Nuri al-Maliki.
So many contradictions and expectations dominate the Iraqi leadership issue, from the Marjaiya entourage to the opinion of the “person in the street”. An unofficial source close to the Marjaiya confided: “What happened is good and the next government will not include Iran’s supporters – but will take into consideration Iran’s strategic security – we will never see al-Maliki in power again, nor al-Ameri or any of the major “old” personalities who governed Iraq, including Masoud Barzani. Iraq will adopt a policy of good neighbourliness, and in the forefront Saudi Arabia, over the next four years”.
Actually, ordinary people in Iraq complain about how Iran failed to integrate itself into Iraqi society, communicate with it and try to understand its mentality. Iraqis refuse anyone trying to impose hegemony over them or boasting about it. I personally have heard people asking their leaders to “form a new government where no pro-Iranian personalities are included and where other pro-Saudi or even pro-US are included to move the country forward and away from the Middle Eastern bickering”.
Can we say that the future of Iraq is sealed as Sayyed Moqtada wants it and that Iran and its allies – or Iraqis affiliated to Tehran – have surrendered to what it is now the status quo?
Well-informed sources in Baghdad say otherwise. Although there are strong indications that the Marjaiya in Najaf is “happy with the results”, sources in the office of prime Minister Haidar Abadi told me: “Najaf is unhappy about the outcome, mainly the victory of Moqtada al-Sadr” and that the Marjaiya “was shocked by what happened”. I believe, following my experience and contacts within the Marjaiya, that Abadi’s sources express more wishful thinking than real information coming from Najaf.
Iraqi sources within the leadership which closely follow the movement of the Shia alliances said Nuri al-Maliki “agreed to include Haidar Abadi along with Hadi al-Ameri in one parliamentary bloc as long as Abadi doesn’t put conditions and ask to serve a second term”. It seems too early to discuss the identity of the new prime minister and the priority goes to forming the largest bloc.
There is no doubt that Abadi will go once more with the bloc that confirmed him Prime minister, for a second term because he wants to rule the country. But Najaf doesn’t think highly of him and would like to see more qualified personalities willing to offer services and rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq away from corruption. This is what Abadi failed to do throughout his term in office, despite his recent electoral speech about his will to fight corruption.
Moqtada al-Sadr clearly expressed his support for Abadi with a second term but with “conditions”. Moqtada is aware that he can’t take control of the Foreign Ministry, the Interior and the Defence Ministries and would like to select his own people for the Health, Agriculture, Commerce and possibly the Justice ministries to offer services to his base in the south of Iraq and Baghdad al-Sadr city. Moqtada knows those security ministries deal with the Americans and would like to keep away from any further contacts with the US forces in Iraq.
Thus, both Hadi al-Ameri and Nuri al-Maliki have the only chance to pull Sayyed Ammar al-Hakim into their coalition and create a balance. Al-Hakim’s twenty seats are significant and can turn the situation upside down, particularly if this coalition attracts more Kurds and Sunnis. Dr. Jamal al-Karbouli (15 seats), Salim al-Jabouri and Saleh al-Mutlaq (both with Ayad Allawi but ready to “migrate” towards the largest coalition), along with al-Fadila (7 seats) can make the largest coalition and defeat Moqtada and Abadi.
The battle is open and the race for those who can form the largest coalition has started. The second battle is much more complicated. If Moqtada wins, Abadi is for certain the prime Minister and will accept to submit to Moqtada’s will. The Kurds of Barzani will be very upset to see Abadi for a second term, since it was he who defeated the Peshmerga in Kirkuk and imposed control over all borders with Kurdistan and Turkey, and closed Erbil airport for months, bringing the Kurds to their knees.
Otherwise, if the other camp prevails, al-Maliki will have no chance because he has many enemies, and above all the Marjaiya (Gran Ayatollah Sistani), in a very unusual step, wrote a clear letter stating he was totally against al-Maliki’s third term four years ago).
Obviously, many Iraqis didn’t vote (44% out of 11 million and not 24 million) apparently due mainly to the campaign prior to the election publicising a “lack of suitable candidates” and the control of the mega “whale parties”. All this fell to Moqtada’s advantage, he who receives his support from the poorest part of the Iraqi population. The question remains: are the main characters we have identified going to disappear, snuffed out, and will Iran accept defeat, or is the battle just starting?
Proof reading: Maurice Brasher
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