Mohammad Allawi has fallen and the prospects for a new PM in Iraq are not good

Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Elected Prime Minister Mohammad Allawi has fallen due to the lack of a parliamentary quorum. The selection of his new cabinet, his mismanagement in dealing with various political parties, and his condescending attitude particularly towards Sunnis and Kurds brought him the support of only 108 MPs in Parliament last Sunday. He needed 165 out of 329 MPs.

Allawi’s biggest mistake was in counting on the support of Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr, who had nominated him in the first place. Moqtada’s support made Allawi overconfident; he failed to engage with other political parties, thinking Moqtada’s support would be enough for him to govern. Sayyed Moqtada was indeed given the leadership of the Iraqi groups following the US drone assassination of Iranian brigadier general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes and their companions. The Iranian and Iraqi leaderships acknowledged Moqtada’s leadership at that moment in order to unite the Shia of Iraq. It was Moqtada who selected Allawi, and most Shia groups accepted the choice at the time.

At that time, the Iraqi street was boiling and rising up against corruption, the mismanagement of political leaders who share power amongst themselves, and against the lack of job opportunities and civil services. Sayyed Moqtada joined the crowd, trying to adopt the street protest movement as though he had been its leader and instigator. 

The reality is different. In the past, when Nuri al-Maliki, Haidar Abadi, and Adel Abdel Mahdi, ruled Iraq, the favourite hobby of Sayyed Moqtada was to call for a million men to protest at his preferred location, the green zone in Baghdad. Moqtada wanted to show off his public support both to the prime minister in office and to foreign missions and government headquarters. Moqtada regularly played this game, notably during the last election, when Professor Sheikh Ali Smeism, one of the Sadrist leaders, was managing Moqtada’s electoral campaign. At that time he was able to attract the support from many groups to secure 53 MPs in parliament.

During Adel Abdul Mahdi’s presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Marjaiya in Najaf hoped that Moqtada al-Sadr would allow the new Prime Minister to rule without major protests in the green zone for at least a year.  Sayyed Moqtada reneged on his promise after a few months, calling for demonstrations against Abdel Mahdi in the Green Zone. However, such displays of power have now backfired on Muqtada. He is now part of the system and holds the largest number of deputies, ministers, general managers and ambassadors. Hence, the people in the street are no longer under Moqtada’s control and are demanding that all political leaders stop imposing their will on the cabinet and dividing power among themselves.

Moqtada al-Sadr and his group – called “the blue hats” – were both driving attacks on the protestors and at the same time “protecting” them. No one in Iraq besides  Sayyed Muqtada dares to demonstrate in front of government buildings or to clash with large and powerful Shiite parties. This is not because he has the most influential organisation, but because he is not inhibited by religious or national considerations as are other Shia parties. This is why all groups tried to avoid clashing with Sayyed Moqtada in the first years of the US occupation of Iraq. The situation has changed today, as many Shia groups are well equipped and armed. Still, they prefer not to clash with Moqtada, although he is no longer so much feared as he was before. Iraqis call him “the surfer.”

When Major General Soleimani (who did not have good relations with the volatile Moqtada) was killed, the Iranian leadership made Moqtada believes he was the “Rahbar” (Leader) of Iraq in order to mollify his inconsistent mood. Moqtada was quick to suggest Muhammad Allawi to head the government. Most of the Shiite parties agreed to support Allawi. However, problems started when Allawi failed to consult with the main parties (Sunni and Kurds) in assembling his cabinet. He also ignored other Shiite organisations inside the Conquest coalition (Al-Fateh) because Hadi al-Amiri had promised Allawi absolute support. 

Allawi ignored the fact that Al-Sadr had lost a lot of his prestige and that people and groups are no longer afraid to face him or to disagree with him. Likewise, Al-Amiri does not control Al-Fateh (nor even the Badr organisation). Al-Amiri is an honorary president, respected in part for the history of fighting against Saddam Hussein.

By securing support from al-Ameri and al-Sadr, Allawi wrongly supposed he no longer needed anybody else. Sadr told Allawi he would bring all representatives to the Parliament by force to give him legitimacy. Allawi ignored requests from the Sunni and Kurdish parties and dealt with them condescendingly. He also angered Nuri Al-Maliki, Faleh Al-Fayyad, and other Shiite parties.

Allawi presented his cabinet to everyone without consulting or communicating with political parties and subsequently lost political support. Allawi ignored the demonstrators, who are looking for younger ministers who understand their situation and do not reside outside Iraq. Muqtada never rides a losing horse, even if he has chosen it. With the support of only two people (Al-Amri and Al-Sadr), Allawi failed to reach a consensus even among the Shia.

Today, the hunt for a new candidate has begun. Names like Abdel-Wahab Al-Saadi are mentioned. He gained great popularity during his fight at the head of the “Golden Division” against ISIS during the liberation of Iraq. However, al-Saadi has no chance because he is a military man, and Iraqi politicians have pledged not to support any military candidate for prime minister. 

Other names such as Mustafa al-Kazimi (chief of intelligence), Ahmed al-Asadi and Muhammad al-Daradji are also being proposed, and this is not the end of the list. But Moqtada Al-Sadr has yet to nominate anyone.

As for the Marjaiya in Najaf, it will remain silent because it is certain that there is no hope for better governance so long as the quota principle that has also bedevilled Lebanese politics (requiring set percentages of representation for sectarian communities), prevails in Iraqi politics. The demands of the street cannot overcome the mentality of those in power, the political parties who control the House of Representatives. An early parliamentary election would be the solution.

It will not be easy for Iraq to attain political stability. There is a lack of consensus among the Iraqis themselves and an apparent lack of resolve to stand and impose the withdrawal of the US from Iraq. The US has asked for a 14-month delay for its withdrawal. This request has been rejected pending formation of a new government. President Barham Saleh has 15 days to name a new candidate, starting from today.

Proofread by: C.G.B.

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