The two Iraqi political blocs who collectively won the most seats during the recent general election have announced a pact with the intention of forming a broad coalition government. The Saairun bloc of controversial Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won 54 seats in the election while Hadi Al-Amiri’s Fatah alliance scored a close second with 47 seats.
During the campaign Al-Amiri campaigned on his credentials as a war hero in the fight against Daesh terrorism. Al-Amriri led the Popular Mobilisation Units whose contribution to the war against terrorism was arguably larger than that of the regular Iraqi armed forces. Al-Amiri is known to have a good relationship with Tehran and as a consequence is seen as a leader who would expand Iraq’s already healthy partnership with the neighbouring Islamic Republic.
By contrast while al-Sadr is a prominent Shi’a cleric, he has defied the stereotypes frequently assigned to such individuals throughout the region. Al-Sadr is widely viewed as someone hostile to both Iran and to the Syrian government. He famously joined the clarion call of regional Takfiris in demanding the resignation of the Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad. Al-Sadr has also become increasingly close with Saudi Arabia while domestically his coalition contains the deeply controversial Iraqi Communist Party which for decades has acted as a fifth column seeking to undermine the Arab characteristics of a majority Arab state. Additionally, al-Sadr brought other parties into his ranks including various radical youth groups and so-called Iraqi feminist groups.
In this sense, al-Sadr’s coalition was a protest coalition compromised of the most obstructionist, outcast and controversial parties in modern Iraq. A vote for this coalition was therefore something of a collective protest vote which allowed Iraqis to vent their anger at a variety of competing status quos that have traded leadership positions since 2003. In other words, if you don’t like anyone who has ever been in political or military power in contemporary Iraq, al-Sadr’s coalition represented a home for the disaffected in this sense.
By contrast, al-Amiri’s Fatah coalition presented a positive message which sought to reward Iraq’s most acclaimed anti-Daesh fighters with political power to match their important military role in securing most of Iraq from terrorist occupation.
Since the election, multiple stories of corruption in the processing of votes have come to the fore. This has been especially true in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, but allegations of corruption continue to cover areas throughout Iraq. As a result, a new electoral commission was named and ordered to oversee a manual recount of all ballots. This recount however was thrown into disarray when recent days saw a ballot storage facility go up in flames in southern Baghdad – an area known to be a hotbed of al-Sadr loyalists.
While arrests of suspected arsonists have been made, the ability to conduct a full manual recount is now shrouded with uncertainty. It is against this backdrop that the rivals al-Sadr and al-Amiri have decided on forming a coalition while both have stated that other major parties could join them in order to form a broader national government.
At this tense juncture in Iraq’s history, stability can only be achieved via such a national government, one which features as many parties as possible. Iraq is not sufficiently stable so as to be able to afford a confrontational ‘government vs. opposition’ parliamentary model and must instead rely on the absence of an adversarial political system as a means of fostering stability and putting an end to years of sectarian strife.
The so-called “de-Ba’athification” process that the US occupiers of Iraq instigated after 2003 has been a total disaster as Iraqi Sunni Muslims who had nothing to do with the former government of President Saddam Hussein were left economically, socially and political disenfranchised for years after the illegal invasion of 2003. This itself created a power vacuum filled first by al-Qaeda and later by Daesh (an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq).
Therefore, while al-Sadr and al-Amiri’s blocs have exposed a schism even within the broader Shi’a majority of Iraqis, it is crucial for Sunni Arabs, Turkomen and moderate Kurdish parties to have their share of representation in a new all-parties government.
Anything less than such a broad coalition could lead to a new chapter in Iraq’s political collapse. With such an all-parties anti-sectarian coalition could ideally restore placidity to Iraq’s internal situation, Iraq must simultaneously pursue a policy of ‘only friends – no enemies’ with all of its neighbours. This means maintaining a vital Iranian partnership, intensifying recently restored good relations with Turkey, maintaining close contact with Syria, especially in respect of sharing intelligence on counter-terrorism efforts, while disallowing Iraq’s GCC neighbours any chance to exploit their own tensions with Iran via Iraq.
The aforementioned solution to Iraq’s many problems is the only possible path towards external peace and internal reconciliation. It remains to be seen whether an embryonic al-Amiri/al-Sadr coalition can achieve such a feat.