The battle between the US and Iran came to light overtly in the first session of the new Iraqi parliament. This contest will remain open until the federal court decides which of the two coalitions holds the largest number of deputies and is therefore eligible to form a government (the Speaker – and his two deputies-, the President – and his two deputies – who will ask the Prime Minister to form a government). Haidar Abadi, the interim Prime Minister, failed to present the largest coalition but managed to gain more time to enable his ally, the US, to exert even more pressure on Iraqi politicians on Abadi’s behalf. But whatever direction the wind blows, there is no doubt that Iran now has over 150 MPs supporting it. Thus, any US attempt to isolate Tehran or unilaterally control Mesopotamia has irreversibly failed.
But what happened during the first session of parliament, behind the curtains?
There are two Shia coalitions trying to attract as many Shia, Sunni and Kurds (with minorities) as possible, in the midst of a fierce split between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish political parties throughout the country.
For the sake of clarity, these coalitions will be defined as:
- Haidar Abadi with Moqtada al-Sadr
- Nuri al-Maliki with Hadi al-Ameri
The Abadi-Sadr coalition presented to the parliament a document signed by the heads of various political parties supporting its coalition, with a total of 181 MPs, while Maliki-Ameri presented a document with the signature of 153 MPs. Each coalition claimed to represent the largest one and to, therefore, be eligible to choose the future president. The elderly interim speaker received the documents and forwarded them to the federal court to decided which one was valid.
Among the Abadi-Sadr list, there are many members of the parliament who left their political party and joined the other camp. These are:
– Al Nasr (victory) coalition lead by Abadi himself: out of 42 MPs, there are 21 who signed with Maliki-Ameri and 7 (Fadilah) who took a neutral position, leaving the interim prime minister in a very weak position. Those who abandoned Abadi are: Harakat Ataa 6 MPs, Hizb al-Islami 5 MPs, Mo’tamar al-Watani al-Iraqi 4 MPs, al-Shem’mari 2 MPs, Ahmad al-Jarba 2 MPs, Independent 2 MPs.
– Anbar Hawiy’atuna: 2 MPs deserted Abadi
– I’tilaf al-Wataniya (Ayad Allawi): 9 MPs deserted Abadi.
– Al-Qara: 11 MPs abandoned Abadi.
– Salaheddine Hawiyatuna: 1 MP deserted Abadi.
Out of the 181 MPs Abadi-Sadr claimed to represent there are at least 44 MPs who abandoned Abadi and others who decided to take a neutral course, waiting for the Federal Court to decide which coalition is the largest before joining in.
What will be the Federal Court’s verdict? On similar occasions in 2010, 2014, and 2018, the Federal Court gave a clear opinion: every member of the Parliament is free to move between political parties, outside his own, once he swears his constitutional oath.
When Abadi arrived at the parliament and presented his document asserting that his support was sufficient to establish a government, no MP swear his constitutional oath. Therefore he can pretend all head of groups are legitimate and that he is heading the largest coalition. But when all MPs gave their oath (half an hour later), they were free to move amongst different parties, thus his document worth nothing. This means he played on the fact that his documented signed by all head of groups was legitimate at the minute he has presented. He now wants to gain more time to allow further talks and more pressure on the parliamentarians. Indeed, following the first parliamentary break, Abadi no longer pretended to hold the largest coalition and many groups decided to initiate dialogue.
It is now clear to Abadi that he can’t ride a US tank into the “green zone”. So the US (along with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates) will actively exert more pressure on the Sunni and the Kurds with a view to persuading them to support Abadi.
To-date, the Kurds (presenting 27 demands to join a coalition) haven’t decided which horse to back, and are waiting for the Court’s final decision. However, even if the Maliki-Ameri coalition is recognised as the largest one, there is still space for its opponents to gather more allies.
The tug of war between the US and Iran is not over yet. Iran has shown it has over 150 MPs on its side and all are against US policies, hegemony and presence in Iraq. Therefore, even if the US candidate wins, he cannot be expected to rule in peace.
Iraq has not experienced such political discord since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Shia, who represent 60% to 65% of the total population and therefore the majority in the parliament, decide the policies of the country. They do so in agreement with the Sunni and the Kurds who significantly contributed to bringing the Shia to power.
This is why Arab Ambassadors and the US exert a lot of pressure on the Sunni and the Kurds, who are the kingmakers. The US is aware that Abadi’s opponent will not allow the US to keep thousands of servicemen in Iraq like Abadi did, but will instead ask parliament to decide the number of US advisors and trainers (but not troops) able to stay. Iraq wants a strategic relationship with the US and good neighbourhood relationships with the Arab countries, but without having to accept their dictates and interference.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed in one of his tweets that Ambassador Brett McGurk is representing him and Trump on the ground in Baghdad, and “doing a great job” forming a strong Iraqi government- in accordance with US wishes, presumably!
Iran is not hiding the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani and the Hezbollah representative in Baghdad, in order to convince Iraqi politicians why US hegemony should not be allowed in Mesopotamia and why, therefore, its candidate, Abadi, is not suitable to rule.
Haidar Abadi allowed thousands of US personnel to be deployed in the Al-Anbar desert and along the Iraqi-Syrian borders where “ISIS” is still operating. This is also where Hashd al-Shaabi is present, trying to fill the US gap and begging Abadi to allow the Iraqi forces to replace the US and hunt down ISIS. Abadi has responded by removing Faleh al-Fayyad (the new candidate for the prime ministership) and appointing himself as head of Hashd al-Shaabi. The latter move was understood in Baghdad as a provocation to impose Abadi’s authority, and prevent any Hashd attack against ISIS without first coordinating with Baghdad. Since he is the US candidate, even if he wins his authority will be limited. Many parties will oppose him, and his life might even be in danger.
No peace for Iraq is foreseeable, whether the US candidate wins or loses. The current US establishment is different from any previous one. Even with its partners, this US establishment gives the orders, is aggressive, condescending, and provocative. As long as Trump and his warmongering team are in the White House, we can expect difficult years ahead in Iraq and the Middle East.