Monday, August 1, 2022

Iraq Steps Back From The Brink For Now

Coordination Framework followers protesting outside Baghdad's Green Zone (Al-Masalah)

Iraq’s political forces escapade an explosive situation on Monday. The Coordination Framework called out its followers to take to the streets threatening to seize control of government buildings to counter the Sadrists’ occupation of the parliament building. The idea of two mobs of hundreds of people possibly leading to clashes and armed confrontations scared the leaders of the Framework who backed down.

 

Sadr has been steadily escalating pressure upon his rivals in the Coordination Framework. First, on June 12 Sadr withdrew his 73 parliamentarians. After seven months of deadlock in trying to form a new government Sadr decided to use other means to achieve his goals. That was going to the streets. On July 15 he held a massive Friday prayer ceremony bringing out thousands of his followers to intimidate the Framework. Then on July 27 Sadrists stormed the Green Zone and occupied the parliament building to protest the Framework nominating Mohammed al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister. Sadr’s people then protested outside thirteen offices of the Hikma and Dawa parties in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Finally, Sadr’s crowd took the Green Zone once again on July 30 and started a sit-in inside the parliament building to block another session of the legislature so it could elect another government. Sadr is the only Iraqi leader who has such a mass following that is easily mobilized. He has often gone to the streets to push his agenda and he has fallen back to that after failing in talks to pick the next premier.

 

The Coordination Framework responded in kind. Thousands of its supporters went to the Green Zone on Monday. They attempted to breach the security wall around the area but then Nouri al-Maliki of State of Law and Qais al-Khazali of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq told their people to back off. If the Framework members had gotten into the Green Zone it would most likely lead to clashes and probably bloodshed with the Sadrists. It seems like the idea of thousands of people fighting and shooting at each other within the Green Zone with no way to control them scared off the Framework leadership.

 

This whole series of events is not about political ideology. It’s not about those close to Iran and Iraqi nationalists. It’s just about two personalities, Moqtada al-Sadr and Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki’s State of Law won the most seats within the Coordination Framework in the October elections. Since then he has tried to nominate himself as the next prime minister or at least control the next one. Sadr as a longtime rival has blocked this move at every turn. Maliki was an autocrat when he held office and no one trusts him to not use the power of the state to go after his opponents like he did before. Even members of the Framework are opposed to him returning to the PM spot. The problem is Sadr is just as bad. Not only do members of the Framework fear what Sadr might do if he is the power behind the next PM he also has a long history of dramatically changing his mind and reversing positions over and over again. This is why Iraq has reached the brink of a battle for control of the government in the middle of Baghdad because there is no way to compromise between these two individuals.

 

Despite all these bad signs there is a possible way out of the immediate situation. More and more leaders are coming out for early elections as a solution. One of Sadr’s goals behind pulling his MPs out of parliament was to force a new round of balloting to try to gain more seats and be able to form the next administration. More are now making similar calls from Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Hikma which are part of the Framework to the Kurdistan Democratic Party which is aligned with Sadr. Of course, the devil is always in the details and negotiating new voting could take months which still gives ample time for the two sides to take up arms against each other. That’s the choice Iraq’s elite now have. They can continue to have a show of power with mass demonstrations and sit ins or they can sit down and talk. It’s not clear which way they will go. Ironically new elections will likely not solve anything.

 

SOURCES

 

Al Aalem, “New early elections … a solution agreed upon by the political forces on conditions,” 7/31/22

 

Bas News, “Sadr Supporters Close Down Several Offices of Al-Hikma, Islamic Dawa,” 7/29/22

 

Al Mada, “Al-Maliki and Al-Amiri control the Coordination Committee: calls for early elections are ineffective and compliment the current,” 6/27/22

 

NINA, “Demonstrators Announce An Open Sit-In Inside Parliament,” 7/30/22

 

NRT, “Maliki Cautions Coordination Framework Supporters Against Entering Green Zone,” 8/1/22

 

Reuters, “Iraqi Shia Sadrist lawmakers resign from parliament,” 6/12/22

- “Thousands of anti-Sadr demonstrators protest parliament occupation,” 8/1/22

 

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iraq: Sadr’s rivals fear mass demonstrations. His supporters do too,” Middle East Eye, 7/13/22

- “Violence or dialogue? Iraq could go either way as Sadrist standoff escalates,” Middle East Eye, 8/1/22

 

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