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Iraq: when is the political unblocking?

The political deadlock is total in Iraq. Ten months after legislative elections which failed to appoint a new Prime Minister, hundreds of demonstrators invaded Parliament on July 27, a new coup by the influential but unpredictable Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr.

In an Iraq paralyzed by a political crisis for several months, hundreds of demonstrators briefly invaded Parliament, a new outburst from the influential but unpredictable Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, who is increasing the pressure on his opponents.

Ten months after the legislative elections of October 2021, the impasse is total and the country is still awaiting the appointment of a new Prime Minister.

In a multi-confessional Iraq, the post of Prime Minister traditionally goes to a Shiite, generally chosen by consensus by the main parties sharing power.

Hundreds of protesters invaded parliament (AFP)
Moqtada Sadr, kingmaker

Kingmaker and troublemaker on the political scene, Moqtada Sadr had decided to change the situation after the legislative elections. First force of the Parliament with 73 deputies, the sadrist current wanted to name the Prime Minister and to form a government of “majority” with its allies.

But in June, in one of his usual reversals, Mr. Sadr forced his elected officials to resign, leaving his opponents the task of forming a government, in this case the “Coordination Framework”, an alliance of factions pro-Iran Shiites bringing together the formation of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and representatives of Hachd al-Chaabi, former paramilitaries integrated into the regular forces.

This political camp announced Monday, July 25 the candidacy of Mohamed Chia al-Soudani for the post of Prime Minister. This 52-year-old former minister and former provincial governor, from the seraglio, is also considered by the Sadrists to be closely linked to Mr. Maliki, a historic enemy of Mr. Sadr.

To reject Mr. Soudani’s candidacy, hundreds of Moqtada Sadr’s supporters invaded Parliament on Wednesday (July 28th), entering the very secure green zone which houses government institutions and embassies.

Message of this irruption: Mr. Sadr informs his adversaries “that there will be no government (…) without his agreement”, estimates the political scientist Ali Al-Baidar.

“Via the masses, he signifies that he is an active player in the political landscape, that all must respect his positions and opinions, that nothing can be done without Sadr’s blessing,” he adds.

Political instability has been total for ten months (AFP)
Counter his opponents

For Renad Mansour, of the Chatham House think tank, Mr Sadr is showing those involved in forming government “that he has the power of the streets”.

“He hopes to use this power to thwart his opponents’ attempts to form a government,” he adds.

“It will be the longest process of forming a government” that the country has ever known, he forecasts.

Mr. Sadr is not at his first stroke of brilliance. On the strength of its popular base, in mid-July it mobilized hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for a collective Friday prayer in Baghdad.

“None of the parties is willing to make concessions, we are heading for more escalation,” said Baidar.

Concerning the choice of the Prime Minister, “the Coordination Framework risks being weakened if it presents an alternative candidate to satisfy Mr. Sadr”, he justifies.

Internal rivalries

Renad Mansour however points to the “divisions and numerous internal rivalries” within this coalition.

“Some are even worried about working without Sadr and forming a government without him”, he underlines, pointing to the fear of seeing the demonstrations or outbursts of the Sadrists “become a reality for any future government “.

From now on, more and more voices are raised to evoke the possibility of early legislative elections, which would make it possible to reshuffle the cards by electing a new Parliament of 329 deputies.

“The Sadrists hope that by presenting themselves as an opposition force rather than a government party they can attract more voters,” said Mr. Mansour.

The alternative would be to see the activity of Parliament paralyzed by the political instability which puts a stop to legislative work, explains the professor of political sciences at the University of Baghdad, Ihsan al-Shammari.

“Part of Mr. Sadr’s strategy is to besiege Parliament,” he added, citing the possibility that the Sadrists could organize a sit-in there or launch a campaign of “civil disobedience”.

Invading parliament “is only a first step”, warns Mr. Shammari: “The message is clear, Sadr and his supporters are ready to go further than that”.

With AFP

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