Iraq’s parliament by numbers
Iraq’s new parliament will meet to form a new government following the first national elections since the terror group Daesh occupied vast swaths of the country’s territory. After a lengthy manual re-count of votes, the major factions had the following number of parliamentary seats:
–Saairun Alliance of Muqtada al-Sadr=54 seats
–Fatah Alliance of Hadi Al-Amiri= 48 seats
–Victory Alliance of current PM Haider al-Abadi=42 seats
–State of Law Coalition of Nouri al-Maliki=25 seats
–Kurdistan Democratic Party of Nechervan Barzani=25 seats
–Al-Wataniya alliance of Ayad Allawi=21 seats
According to factional spokesmen, al-Sadr’s Saairun intends to form a coalition government with the Victory Alliance of the current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi along with the Al-Wataniya group of current Vice President Ayad Allawi. According to alliance spokesmen, when smaller parties representing religious and ethnic minorities are included in the coalition, the new parliamentary grouping will command 187 seats in parliament thus easily reaching the 165 seat threshold to form a government.
However, the Fatah alliance of Hadi Al-Amiri have announced their intention to form a government through an alliance with State of Law Coalition of Nouri al-Malik and smaller minority factions. This looks to set up a larger parliamentary showdown between the two main groups led by al-Sadr and Al-Amiri over who can court the largest number of minority parties including those from Iraq’s northern Kurdish autonomous region in order to be the first to form a ruling coalition.
Who is fighting for what?
In terms of an ideological fight, the two men who matter most are Muqtada al-Sadr and Hadi Al-Amiri. While both men are Shi’a Arabs, the stereotype that all Iraqi Shi’a have similar political views is dramatically shattered when one inspects the contrasting records and current positions of the two biggest numerical victors in Iraq’s election.
While Muqtada al-Sadr’s family were staunch opponents of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government in the 1980s, the al-Sadr clan also had important doctrinal differences with Iran’s Revolutionary leader Sayyed Ruhollah Khomeini. Furthermore, while al-Sadr led an armed opposition faction to the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, today al-Sadr has become a useful political utensil in America’s attempt to purge Iraq of the Iranian influence which gradually grew after the illegal overthrow of Saddam.
Unlike virtually every major Shi’a Arab leader, al-Sadr has spoken out against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has issued virulently anti-Iranian statements. Likewise, al-Sadr’s recent friendship with US ally Saudi Arabia has inflamed the feelings of pro-Iranian Iraqis.
By contrast, Hadi Al-Amiri is by all means the most openly pro-Iranian politician in Iraq having been trained by Iranian troops before leading his Popular Mobilisation Units against Daesh terrorists throughout Iraq’s long war with the internationally proscribed group. Additionally, Al-Amiri is a strong supporter of the Syrian government and its Lebanese partner Hezbollah.
While it was briefly suggested that al-Sadr and Al-Amiri might form a grand national coalition in spite of their differences, the fact that both men are now claiming to be in a position to put together a governing coalition is indicative of the fact that the rivalry is certainly back on.
What is at stake?
Iraq’s internal development has long been blighted by decades of war, sanctions, terrorism and foreign occupations. Against this grim background it is difficult to see how any of the present factions have a realistic solution to solving these grave problems. Because of this, the most immediate outgrowth of a new Iraqi government will be the country’s foreign relations.
Al-Sadr is a cunning political opportunist who after years of fading into irrelevance re-invented himself as an anti-Iranian Iraqi nationalist who was willing to coalesce with leftist and even radical feminist factions in spite of his status as an Islamic cleric. While al-Sadr claims he rejects both American and Iranian influence in Iraq, his recent closeness with Saudi Arabia including his adopting of the anti-Damascus position of Riyadh means that in growing closer to America’s number one ally in the Arab world, al-Sadr is de-facto making a rapprochement with the United States via its Saudi messenger.
Interestingly, while Turkey remains a member of NATO, an al-Sadr led government could mean a deterioration in Iraq’s recently improved relations with Turkey. The last two to three years have seen a gradually rapprochement between Iraq and Turkey that has been facilitated both by Iran’s rejuvenated partnership with Turkey as well as the fact that Turkey offered Baghdad support in closing off airspace and trading roots to radical Kurdish insurgents who in September of 2017 attempted to secede from Iraq.
Under the pro-Tehran Al-Amiri, Iraq-Turkey relations would likely improve in a manner that coincides with the reality that Turkey and Iran are now valuable partners who are both facing different kinds of serious hostility from the United States. This contrasts sharply with al-Sadr whose Saudi partnerships would alienate both Turkey and Iran while also preventing Qatari investment from flowing into the country – something which would be far more likely under an Al-Amiri government.
Because Iraq is clearly in no position to stand on its own two feet at this point in history, the country’s future largely depends on what alliances and partnerships it makes with its neighbours and the wider world. If as expected al-Sadr successfully forms a government, it will be a stealth victory for the United States while a government led by Al-Amiri would have been an overt victory for Iran. Whether either of these two potential governments can last long enough to govern with credibility is still anyone’s guess.