By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
A “coalition of five” is about to be formed to select the new Iraqi Prime Minister by the largest gathering of parties among the Shia, Sunni and Kurds following the final results of the Iraqi elections. This is where both the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Al Quds brigade General Qassem Soleimani and the US President Donald Trump meet on the same “candidate criteria”: Haidar al-Abadi.
Soleimani is in Iraq for some days and he met all heads of groups who won substantial numbers of seats in the new parliament, including Moqtada al-Sadr- described exaggeratedly by the mainstream media as “king maker”.
However, Iran’s main allies Hadi Al-Ameri (the head of the second larger group with 47 seats) and his ally Nouri al-Maliki (with 25 seats), are still struggling outside this coalition that Soleimani is trying to put together. Al-Ameri wrongly believes he can be the new prime minister and is trying, along with al-Maliki, to gather the Sunnis and Kurds who would rather not see al-Abadi in power again.
Unlike what he is trying to express overtly, Moqtada al-Sadr is meeting with what is supposed to be his “fiercest enemy” – Qassem Soleimani in Mesopotamia- to make sure he is not excluded from the gathering of the largest coalition. Since the announcement of the final electoral results in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr (with 54 seats in the parliament) is trying to give an impression that he is in control of the political arena and can be the one who decides the fate of politics in Iraq and therefore select the Prime Minister. Thus, ambassadors and politicians visit Moqtada to congratulate him on his outstanding victory of the largest number of seats in the Parliament.
With 54 seats at the parliament, a single group like that of “Sairoun” led by Moqtada, cannot go very far: a coalition of at least 165 out of a total of 328 seats is needed to form the new government and select the future prime minister. In 2010, the ex-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won 91 seats, two seats more than his competitor Nouri al-Maliki but fell short of a majority. And despite the world support Allawi enjoyed at the time, Iran managed to gather the largest coalition and paved the road for al-Maliki to reach power.
This time, Iran is convinced al-Maliki should not return to the prime ministership, nor his closest ally Hadi al-Ameri. This is also what the Marjaiya in Najaf is convinced of. Soleimani, before the elections, tried to bring al-Ameri and al-Abadi together in one coalition so they could come out stronger than any other group. However, al-Ameri, following a Soleimani-Abadi-Ameri meeting (and to the dislike of Iran), refused to sign and decided to go solo. The Iranian envoy – who enjoys an official function in Iraq as “advisor to the Iraqi government” – wanted to guarantee for Abadi to return to power and serve his second term.
Today Abadi is the choice of both Iran and the US. It is rare for these enemies to meet on the same ground and agree on the same person as Prime Minister. In 2010, Soleimani spoiled US plans to bring in Allawi and pushed al-Maliki as Premier. In 2014, Abadi made it to power solely because the Marjaiya in Najaf officially – and in a very rare step – rejected the return of al-Maliki, to the dislike of Soleimani in person. Today Sayyed Sistani doesn’t vouch for Abadi but he doesn’t stand in his way. Although Abadi wrongly believes he enjoys the support of the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani, the Marjaiya in fact can’t endorse any suitable candidate for Iraq. Sayyed Sistani believes none of those available is ready to take the country out of its corruption and the control of the mega-party “whale groups” who dominate Iraq since 2003. However, Sayyed Sistani is against Iran’s interference in Iraq and doesn’t support either al-Maliki or al-Ameri.
This time, even Iran is not in favour of al-Maliki and al-Ameri, and would like to see Abadi in power again. Actually, the prime minister received Iraq in 2014 with 13 provinces and, due to Sayyed Sistani’s Fatwa that mobilised the population against the terrorist group ISIS, the country is back with 15 provinces. Moreover, Iran is not looking for a confrontation with the US when it is not necessary and doesn’t mind coming together around Abadi if he is the one available and has not acted during his term against Iran’s interest. For most of the four years in power, the relationship between Abadi and Soleimani suffered tremendously. Itbis due to Soleimani’s pragmatism and positive approach towards Abadi that the relationship returned to normality between the two men.
Haidar al-Abadi is also Moqtada al-Sadr’s choice. The sadrist leader has a prejudice against Soleimani who is responsible for financing and promoting – since 2008 – splinter sadrist groups who stand today as Moqtada’s opponents. However, during his meeting with Soleimani, Moqtada asked “not to be excluded from the ongoing coalition of five”: Abadi, Ameri, Maliki, Hakim (19 seats) and Allawi. In case Moqtada joins in, he will get his quota in the government, equivalent to the 54 parliamentary seats he controls. Usually, every ministerial position has a certain number of seats. For example, a Prime Minister position can be equivalent to 45 to 50 seats, while a Foreign Minister can be equivalent to 20 seats. The numbers are agreed among all groups forming the largest coalition and therefore holding the right to form a government. In the case of Moqtada refusing, his MPs will sit among the opposition groups in the parliament.
Today, no one among the politicians has been vetoed. Soleimani’s meeting with Ayad Allawi – not at all a prime ministerial candidate – represents a huge step Iran is taking to bring all main groups together in the largest coalition possible. This time, there are no serious complications in the way of Abadi, eager to be given a second chance to return to power. He is the middle-man among all the groups, with the exception of Masoud Barzani who believes he was humiliated and politically destroyed by Abadi.
There is no kingmaker in Iraq today. Soleimani and Trump have agreed – with no written or direct contacts of course – about the stability of Iraq now that ISIS has been defeated. And Moqtada al-Sadr is certainly not the one who decides – though he is part of the decision makers if he joins the government – even though he tried to insinuate this to the world on the basis of his euphoric victory of 54 seats. All indications lead to the fact that Haidar Abadi will be given another chance to hold the country together and face the most difficult tasks ahead: the unity of the Iraqis, the reconstruction of a destroyed north and east, the rebuilding of the infrastructure, and above all the near impossible fight against corruption.
Proof read by: Maurice Brasher
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