First Published: 2010-09-14

 

Sadrists seek role as kingmakers in Iraq

 

Muqtada al-Sadr's party offers way out of political deadlock in Iraq following elections.

 

Middle East Online

By Basim al-Shara - BAGHDAD

The Sadrists are a significant political force in Iraq

The political movement of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is wielding increasing clout as the tortuous process of forming a new Iraqi government continues.

In recent days, the Sadrist party Al-Ahrar has indicated that it is backing Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi for the post of prime minister. Until now, the competition for the job has been seen as a straight fight between incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, leader of the mostly secular Iraqiya coalition which includes top Sunni leaders.

The Sadrists’ endorsement of a third candidate exposes cracks within the Shia coalition that consists of Maliki’s State of Law party; the Iraqi National Alliance, INA, which is led by the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI, and a handful of smaller groups.

The Shia bloc needs to come up with a consensus figure to oppose Allawi, so the introduction of Abdul Mahdi as an alternative to Maliki could prolong the political impasse that has already dragged on for six months since an inconclusive parliamentary election.

Some Al-Ahrar members insist Maliki has to go.

“We are not going to negotiate with State of Law unless they offer an alternative candidate to Maliki for the prime minister’s post,” said Qusay al-Suhail, a Sadrist leader.

Yet others are more open to compromise, indicating that they would, after all, accept Maliki if that was the consensus view across the Shia coalition.

Baha al-Araji, a senior Sadrist lawmaker and former head of the parliamentary committee for legal affairs, says the proposal that Mahdi should be the Shia candidate is intended as a constructive way of breaking the current deadlock.

“The failure to come to an agreement on a prime minister means taking another route – a compromise candidate,” he said. “There have been agreements inside INA that led to the choice of Abdul Mahdi, and the Sadrists have given the green light for him to be prime minister.”

Nevertheless, Araji said, Al-Ahrar would abide by any choice made by the majority in the Shia coalition.

“We are still part of the national coalition with the State of Law, so now there will be a competition between Maliki and Mahdi to choose one of them as our candidate for prime minister,” added Araji

IWPR understands that INA and State of Law have agreed a process whereby each will name its preferred candidate, one of whom will be selected by a majority vote.

The Sadrists’ opposition to Maliki remaining prime minister is due in part to his role in the 2008 campaign against their military arm, the Mahdi Army, that ousted the force from its strongholds in Basra, Karbala and parts of southern Baghdad.

The joint US-Iraqi campaign inflicted heavy losses on the the Sadrists and their Mahdi Army, and prompted Sadr himself to leave for Iran, where he reportedly remains to this day.

The Sadrists, however, regrouped as a significant political force with a populist platform that won it strong support among millions of Shia in Baghdad’s urban slums. The Sadrists won 39 seats in the March elections – more than any other faction within the INA, which won 70 seats in total.

“In the ongoing negotiations on forming the next government, the Sadrists’ influence has grown because of the high number of seats they received in the parliamentary election,” Mohammed al-Bayati, an ISCI parliamentarian, said. “Their leverage is growing every day.”

Iraq politicians are split over the growing influence of the Sadrists. Some see it as beneficial, while others suspect a ploy to promote an anti-American agenda.

“The Sadrists are able to turn the political equation upside down,” said Haider Jourani, a State of Law parliamentarian. “They are adamant in their demands and that gives them the ability to break many potential deals. The disagreements between State of Law and the Sadrists can only be solved by dialogue – and dialogue takes time.”

Although the Sadrists have not made any public demands for positions in government, analysts believed they are holding out for key ministries and a role in curtailing American influence.

Political analyst Hadi Mari believes that the Sadrists are standing out against Maliki because they are aware he is under pressure from Washington to curb their influence. On a recent visit to Iraq, Vice-President Joseph Biden did not meet Sadrist officials and openly denounced the possibility that they would take a role in government.

“Baghdad will clip the wings of the Sadrists again if that’s what Washington wants. The Sadrists are afraid of the US proposal for a Maliki-Allawi power-sharing deal, because it would undermine their political future. Maliki would strike the Sadrists and any Islamist group that is close to Iran if he is given a second term,” Mari said. “Ruling out Maliki as a candidate for prime minister is the only weapon left to the Sadrists because his return would mean a new campaign against them.”

Sadr’s followers expect him to return once a government supported by his movement emerges. His reappearance would complicate the political process and create extra hurdles in relations with the US and other nations.

Al-Ahrar officials say Sadr remains closely involved in his party’s affairs despite his absence.

“There is a common mistake that Muqtada al-Sadr has taken Iran as his headquarters. He is actually there, but Iran is not his headquarters. Sadr travels a lot and was seen lately in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. He will be coming to Najaf soon to take a direct part in Iraqi politics,” Araji said.

It remains to be seen whether the Sadrist nomination of Abdul Mahdi will break the political deadlock – and what other demands emerge from the resurgent Shia movement.

For now, the negotiations show little sign of throwing up a new government in the near future. Even optimistic estimates put the timeframe at weeks or months.

Progress towards forming a government has been further complicated in recent weeks by coordinated insurgent attacks against security forces across Iraq country, and allegations that the United States and regional governments are interfering in the negotiations. The withdrawal of US combat troops has underscored the lack of a working government and increased the sense of frustration among Iraqis.

“I don’t believe there will be a government in place before October, but the nomination of Abdul Mahdi may lead to renewed efforts,” Ibrahim al-Sumaidi, an independent political analyst based in Baghdad, said.

“Iraq is a country of surprising agreements, and sometimes what’s really going on is the complete opposite of what’s being said to the public. We can only wait and see.”

Basim al-Shara is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting www.iwpr.net)

 

Neo-Ottomanism scores new victory in Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan

Obama's warfare doctrine to be tested in Syria

Top Saudi envoys hold talks with Qatar emir

Egypt quizzes Morsi for 'giving security papers to Qatar'

At Venice Film Festival, Iran filmmaker urges West to lift sanctions

Israel counts losses and gains in Gaza: Heavy cost for 50 days of war

Saudi Crown Prince flies to France next week: Jihadist threat tops agenda

UN confirms capture of UN peacekeepers in Syria Golan

Islamic State executes dozens of Syria soldiers in new atrocity

'Jihad recruiters' arrested in Netherlands, Germany

Saudi Grand Mufti warns youth against ‘perverted’ calls for jihad

Fire rises up again from under ashes on Lebanon border

Vital aid arrives in war-battered Gaza

Lebanon seeks to tackle child marriage with new legislation

Hollande: Assad cannot be partner in fight against terrorists

UN moves to impose sanctions on Libya militias

Mother of US hostage to leader of Islamic State: Please spare my son

Turkey ruling party officially approves Davutoglu as new PM

US spy agencies face difficult task in Syria

Saudi Arabia jails 18 militants on terror charges

Gazans breathe sigh of relief

Litany of horrors becomes regular fixture in jihadist-held Syria

Iraq forces mass for onslaught on jihadist siege of Amerli

Doha offers help to rebuild Gaza

Iran alters Arak heavy water reactor over Western worries

New Turkey PM leaves successor troubled legacy

US rules out coordination with Syria on targeting jihadists

Algeria president sacks Belkhadem

Calm reigns over Gaza amid celebrations

Palestinians ‘reach’ long-term Gaza truce with Israel

Barzani: Iran provided us with weapons

US to track jihadists in Syria with spy planes

Top Iran official in Saudi to repair strained ties

Drums of war are beating anew on Capitol Hill

Israel air raid in Gaza kills two Palestinians

Deadly bus tragedy in Egypt

Car bomb rips through Baghdad intersection

Shebab flee Somalia strategic town in latest advance of African troops

South Sudan warring leaders sign fresh ceasefire deal

Who’s funding extremists? Qatar struggles to clean up tarnished image

Abadi calls on militias to come under Iraq state control

Nile dam row at heart of talks in Sudan

Ansar Sharia calls for jihadist unity in Libya

No let-up in Gaza war as Egypt raises new truce proposal

Thousands march in support of Yemen President’s call for national unity