The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and its Citizen’s Alliance is attempting to move into another stage of its political career as it prepares for this year’s parliamentary elections. The party was originally formed in Iran to organize pro-Khomeini Iraqi forces on its side during the Iran-Iraq War. Before the 2003 invasion it aligned itself with the United States so that it would gain a seat in the post-Saddam government that the Americans would put together. Afterward it argued for a Shiite region and gained control of most of the south and Baghdad in the 2005 elections. It was then punished in the polls in 2009 and 2010 for its poor governorship. It had even more problems as in between those two elections its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim passed away, and his son Ammar Hakim lost the support of the old guard, which eventually led to the Badr Organization splitting away and joining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. To the surprise of many ISCI made a comeback in 2013 in the governorate level voting. Now it is trying to build on that for this year’s balloting. The party has tried to portray itself as a centrist and nationalist organization that is willing to work with others to solve the country’s deep divisions.
ISCI Leader Ammar Hakim has attempted to lead his party in a new direction in 2014 (LA Times)
This year the Supreme Council has tried to position itself as a party committed to solving Iraq’s problems rather than creating more of them by arguing with other lists. When the fighting in Anbar started in December 2013 the Citizen’s Alliance first called on the local tribes to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and then offered a political plan to rebuild the province and empower local leaders. Many in Anbar have complained that Baghdad is constantly interfering in their affairs and ignoring their demands, so ISCI tried to address both those issues. It said only through political compromises could the conflict be resolved in the governorate. On the legislative front it called on lawmakers to attend sessions, which is always a problem, so that laws can be passed to serve the public. Parliamentarians are constantly absent, and because of the political divisions it is very difficult to pass any meaningful laws. Ammar Hakim has met with some governors like Basra’s Majid Nasrawi calling for better services in the provinces. This was one thing that made the Citizen’s Alliance successful in 2013, appealing to local concerns. It has tried to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between the central and Kurdistan regional governments. In March for instance, it offered an initiative to resolve the dispute between the two over the budget and oil industry based upon greater transparency over production and exports, while maintaining Baghdad’s control over the latter. On this issue ISCI was taking more of a nationalist position as it argued for the Oil Ministry to maintain the lead over the energy field. Hakim also met with Moqtada al-Sadr and offered to be a middleman between Maliki and Kurdistan, and said that he was committed to working out the differences between two so that the 2014 budget could be passed. The budget has become a political football between the premier and his opponents. Once again, the Supreme Council was attempting to portray itself as a list more interested in getting things done then arguing with others. When a presidential guard killed a Radio Free Iraq reporter in Baghdad in March it criticized other parties for attempting to use it for their own political gain. ISCI was referring to the prime minister here as he personally oversaw the arrest of the perpetrator in an obvious political move just before the elections. What differentiated the Supreme Council was that it did not directly attack Maliki. Finally, it announced a “Citizens’ Wants” campaign to try to connect to the public claiming that it wanted to appeal to all sects and groups in the country, while reaching out the tribes and asking their sheikhs to turn out their followers. All these themes make up the Supreme Council’s current election campaign. Rather than getting caught up in partisan disputes it has offered itself up as an honest broker with plenty of ideas to address the country’s many problems. It has used both populist and nationalist rhetoric aligning itself with local concerns, while also stressing the necessity for an effective central government. This is a long ways away from the group’s original image of a pro-Iranian Shiite party that wanted decentralization, and shows the current transformation Hakim is attempting to orchestrate.
The Supreme Council has shown the ability to learn and adapt to its past mistakes. After its devastating losses in the 2009 and 2010 elections it completely reformed its message. It is stressing its Iraqiness and commitment to Baghdad as the center that can resolve the country’s many problems with the periphery. Unlike the vast majority of other political parties, ISCI has largely refrained from attacking others directly. Since it is largely competing for the Shiite vote this sets it apart from the Prime Minister’s State of Law (SOL) and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar bloc. Sadr has tried to appropriate some of these same themes, but has increasingly moved towards attacking the Prime Minister leading to a war of words between the two. SOL has also consistently attacked its rivals, blaming both its domestic and foreign opponents for all the country’s ills. With its success in the 2013 provincial vote the Supreme Council is hoping to do just as well or better this year. How many seats it gains is actually not as important as what direction it takes after all the ballots are counted. Whatever the breakdown the Shiite parties will still have the majority. It is now clear that Sadr is going to challenge a third term for Maliki. That means which side the Supreme Council takes will have the greatest chance to lead the country. Right now ISCI is trying to benefit from the disputes between those two, but it will eventually have to decide to align with one or another, and that might be the turning point in the government formation process that will be a long and difficult one.
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