BAGHDAD: Iraq’s election recount has left controversial Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr facing major difficulties in his efforts to form the biggest bloc in Parliament, Arab News can reveal.
Al-Sadr seemed set to emerge as the main winner in last month’s parliamentary vote, winning 54 seats and becoming the unlikely kingmaker in the country’s turbulent political system.
But after a majority of MPs ruled on Wednesday that there should be a manual recount of all ballots, he is now scrambling to reshape his coalition.
The largest bloc in the national assembly is able to nominate the prime minister and form a new government. Until the results of the election were thrown into doubt, the outgoing Prime Minister Haider Abadi had been expected to retain his position, with Al-Sadr’s backing.
Now, according to sources deeply involved in the negotiations, Al-Sadr is looking to form a parliamentary coalition without Abadi.
This runs the risk of putting him at the mercy of smaller political factions and may ultimately threaten his plan to form a strong independent government free from Iranian influence.
No to Al-Sadr offer
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one negotiator close to Abadi told Arab News that the 44-year-old cleric had called on Abadi to give up his role as leader of the Islamic Dawa Party if he wants to serve a second term as prime minister. Abadi, however, refused.
“He does not want to join Muqtada without his partisan backup,” the source said. “Also, he believes that the manual recounting will change the results in his favor and this will impact the talks between the winning blocs, so he prefers to wait until the final results of the elections come out.”
The Dawa party has headed all the governments formed in Iraq since 2005 and many people blame it for the rampant corruption that has flourished in the country since.
Al-Sadr has called for the establishment of a new government made up of independent technocrats to improve basic public services for millions of impoverished Iraqis.
The negotiator close to Abadi told Arab News that the outgoing prime minister is wary of being at the mercy of Al-Sadr and “does not want to be tied” to him “all the time.”
Al-Sadr rose to prominence after the 2003 US-led invasion as head of the Mehdi Army, a paramilitary group that fought American troops in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Formerly a staunch ally of Iran, in recent years he has rebranded himself as an Iraqi populist and ardent nationalist.
Before the recount was announced, Al-Sadr and Abadi were due to form a parliamentary bloc with the Al-Hikma alliance, led by Ammar Al-Hakim.
Late on Thursday, however, Al-Sadr moved instead to establish a new coalition with Hakim and Iyad Allawi, who served as interim prime minister of Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
If results do not change dramatically after the recount, they stand to hold a combined total of about 100 seats in the Parliament — a long way from the 166 Al-Sadr needs to stop his rivals outmaneuvering him by forming a bigger bloc.
Arab News understands Abadi is hoping his close ties to the US, coupled with regional fears about Al-Sadr’s unpredictability, will prove decisive in ensuring that he is allowed to stay on as prime minister.
A leader of Al-Hikma, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed Abadi is insisting on being guaranteed the post “before engaging in any coalition.”
The source told Arab News: “(Abadi) said that he is a technocrat and practically out of Dawa but he is still with Dawa and the head of the political office of the party.”