|Sadr and Amiri the new power brokers in forming the next Iraqi govt (Reuters)|
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has had a rough going since the May 2018 parliamentary elections. He thought he was assured a second term after leading the victory against the Islamic State. Instead, he ran a poor campaign and came in third behind the Moqtada al-Sadr-Communist Sairoon list and the pro-Iran Hashd Fatah led by Badr’s Hadi Amiri. The summer protests across the south for services, better governance and jobs culminating in the riots in Basra have seemingly sealed his fate. Sairoon and Fatah made a new deal and came out against Abadi as well as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
On September 3, Moqtada al-Sadr and Premier Abadi announced the Reform and Construction alliance as the largest bloc in parliament giving them the right to form the next government. The two had been courting each other for weeks, and finally came to an agreement. In the following days Basra exploded in a wave of protests and riots with several political parties and Hashd offices, the provincial government building and the Iranian consulate all sacked and burned. That changed the political calculus. Abadi was now seen as undesirable because he was not only blamed for the demonstrations, but couldn’t end them either.
There were other factors at play as well. For one, Sadr and Abadi have had a rough relationship. The former has demanded the PM resign from Dawa to remain as prime minister, something Abadi has rejected. Sadr ran on a reformist platform and wanted Abadi to break his ties with his party as a sign of change. The two have also gotten into heated arguments in negotiations. Since 2014, Sadr was one of Abadi’s main supporters but has often gotten frustrated with him over his policies and his lack of consultations with his allies before making decisions. Finally, there was no way a government could be formed without Sairoon and Fatah. They finished first and second, and both are well armed and would not accept being left out of a new regime. That could have led to political violence, which no one wanted.
Sairoon has since abandoned Abadi and joined with Fatah and called for the premier to step down. September 6 there was a reported meeting between Sairoon and Fatah where they agreed to form the largest bloc. Sadr agreed to drop Abadi and Amiri would no longer support Nuri al-Maliki for PM. The next day Fatah called on the prime minister to resign, followed by Sairoon and Ammar Hakim’s Hikma. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani then issued a statement saying that the next premier should be someone new. Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani is said to be pushing all the Shiite parties to come together, come up with three candidates for prime minister and have them plus the Sunni and Kurdish parties vote on one.
Despite the moves against Abadi, the winning parties are no closer to forming a new administration. There are no clear candidates for prime minister. The Sunni parties have split and can’t agree upon a speaker for parliament, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have not even decided to work with any of the lists yet. There are likely days and weeks more of talks ahead before anything concrete is agreed upon. The only thing that looks certain now is that Abadi has lost out.
Al Aalem, “Basra crisis piercing the government boat…Sadr and Amiri turn the table on Abadi,” 9/9/18
- “Details on the verbal argument between Abadi and Sadr meeting at Hotel Babylon,” 8/24/18
- “Source: Suleimani failed to for coalition…And meeting with Abadi without results….Hakim did not withdraw,” 9/6/18
Bas News, “Sadr to Abadi: Either Premier Office or Islamic Dawa Party,” 7/13/18
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Al Mada, “Attempts to announce a “compromise candidate” to replace prime minister…A close relationship between Fatah and others opens the way for the launch of a unified alliance,” 9/9/18
NINA, “Fatah Alliance Calls On PM To Resign,” 9/7/18
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Rudaw, “Ayatollah Sistani: Those in power should not try for prime minister,” 9/10/18
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Sotaliraq, “Sources: Sadr gave up the support of Abadi according to deal with Sulaimani,” 9/10/18