Iraq: Some Light in the “Political Clouds”

Almost a year after Iraq’s last parliamentary elections in October 2021, no government has yet been formed. There is a fierce power struggle to form a government between the Sadrist movement, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Coordination Framework (CF) alliance, which includes a number of Shiite parties largely united in their opposition to the Sadrist movement. Central to this dispute are long-standing political rivalries and personal feuds over public office.

At Sadr’s behest, his MPs quit parliament in June after efforts by opponents and a court ruling had thwarted his attempts to form a national majority government. Sadr’s supporters staged a nearly month-long sit-in, which eventually ended when they stormed a government building in Baghdad’s Green Zone. But the CF Armed Forces clashed with the military wing of the Sadrist movement (Saraya al-Salam) when they opened fire on the protesters. More than 30 people were killed in the clashes and Sadr announced his “withdrawal” from politics.

The political lull observed during the Arbaeen religious pilgrimage ended on September 17 and talks have since resumed. Despite the ongoing national dialogue (which the Sadrists have so far refused to join), the stalemate continues and many fear future violence if both camps cannot agree on mutually acceptable concessions.

But a light in the Iraqi clouds seems to be slowly emerging. And a positive session of parliament finally took place, with former speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi retaining his post after his resignation had been rejected at a session of parliament, while Kurdish independent MP Muhsin al-Mandalawi was elected as the legislature’s first deputy speaker. “The parliament voted to renew confidence in Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi,” state media reported, adding that Halbousi’s resignation had been rejected by MPs by 222 votes to 13. The Iraqi parliament, convened by the main Kurdish, Sunni and pro-Iranian Shiite political blocs, is expected to announce the formation of a new coalition, as Iraq has been without a permanent cabinet for almost a year.

Before the session began, supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets of Baghdad in an attempt to block the convening of parliament, but this time they were prevented by reinforced security forces in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. The current session of parliament is the first since June 23 after sessions were suspended due to protests in Baghdad, when Sadr’s supporters stormed parliament and demanded its dissolution, as well as early elections amid the raging political unrest in the country.

However, newly elected Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi said there were no negative comments about the Coordination Framework’s candidate for Prime Minister Mohammed Shiya al-Sudani. He told Iraqi media that negotiations to form a new government began days ago, noting that he had offered to implement the Baghdad ceasefire declaration to end the crisis. Al-Halbousi added that parties have the right to criticize or approve the way the prime ministerial candidate was chosen, and despite the fact that al-Sudani represents the Shiite component, he noted it is parliament that is the right place to discuss and manage political differences. The CF’s decision to quickly announce al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister after the new MPs had been sworn in reportedly took the Sadrists by surprise. Sadr’s supporters believe that al-Sudani is simply following the orders of former prime minister and prominent Shiite politician Nouri al-Maliki.

It should be recalled that while he was retired, Nouri al-Maliki, who was well aware of the true background to the Iraqi events, claimed US involvement in the plot to divide Iraq and support terrorist organizations. In an interview with Iraqi media, he stressed that the United States was in a watchdog role when the terrorist organization DAESH (banned in the Russian Federation) was taking over parts of the country. Although they were aware of the militants’ plans and movements, they did not strike the terrorist columns in Iraq’s western desert. According to al-Maliki, there are major Western powers, including most notably the United States, that are seeking to divide Iraq, and this project still exists. Back in the day, the fall of Mosul was the beginning of this plot, orchestrated by Washington and organized by international and regional players. He also supported Russia’s active fight against terrorism in the Middle East:  “On the other hand, we see plans by Russia, which is serious about destroying terror in Iraq and Syria.”

In an attempt to hijack the initiative, CF officials are seeking to clarify and defend the circumstances surrounding the nomination of al-Sudani. The CF statement said that there was allegedly some sort of selection committee and he was chosen as the best candidate by consensus. It is alleged that no one has so far presented good reasons why al-Sudani should not be a candidate for prime minister. “If anyone has concerns, they should be presented publicly in parliament, but to date no one has made a convincing case for rejecting his candidacy. Iraq does not stop with Sadr, government formation continues,” the statement said. However, when local journalists pressed CF officials, they admitted that if there were serious official objections to their candidate, “Iraq will not stop with al-Sudani either.”

At the moment, CF seems to be moving vigorously with plans to form a government with al-Sudani, even if some “moderates” are said to be questioning the reasonableness of the move as “provocative towards Sadr” and may consider other candidates. In the CF itself, a number of its members warned against hasty action, believing that without further talks with prominent Kurdish and Sunni counterparts, notably Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani and Sunni legislator and parliament speaker al-Halbousi, it could cause not only a potential backlash, but also the formation of a weak government. Some in the CF question “whether Barzani and al-Halbousi will really be able to abandon Sadr.”

The facts show that the very problem of unity in the Coordination Framework alliance has gone nowhere and the internal struggle within it, after the election of al-Halbousi as speaker of parliament, has only intensified. The CF, a loose alliance of Shiite parties, is divided between “hardliners” and “moderates” over the government formation process and the approach to solving the “Sadr problem” politically and more broadly. This is why it is quite difficult to manage political maneuvers as a unified whole, and this is much disliked by Tehran, which prefers a unified “Shiite house”. CF members generally regard events in the Green Zone as a “loss” for the Sadrists and a “victory” for themselves. Everywhere they now promote themselves and their supporters as rational actors proceeding in accordance with the law.

But all is not so simple and easy in the political firmament of turbulent Iraq and the events of October 1, when more than 150 people were injured during the celebration of the third anniversary of the Tishreen Revolution in Baghdad and Basra Governorate (province), are testament to this. The Tishreen protests, which took place in Baghdad in October 2019 and lasted for several months, demanded an end to the system of governance that had existed since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, an end to corruption, better basic services and employment. Now a medical source told the Shafaq news agency that more than 40 security personnel were injured when protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them. The security forces in turn used rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, which left many demonstrators choking and injured. A security source confirmed to Shafaq news agency that security forces had not used live ammunition and had established full control over al-Jumhuriya and al-Sinak bridges, as well as Tahrir and Nusur squares in Baghdad.

Nevertheless, despite the people’s demonstrations and political divisions, Iraqi politicians must summon the strength, patience and simple life wisdom to stop the country’s collapse and create a new and effective mechanism of governance for Iraq, once brutally destroyed by US aggression.

By Viktor Mikhin
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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