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Rudaw

Analysis

Iran pushes Sadr alliance in Iraq to maintain clout

By AFP 15/6/2018
Muqtada al-Sadr campaigned on eliminating corruption while appealing to Iraq's poorest areas during his run-up to Iraq's parliamentary election on May 12, 2018. Photo: Wathiq Khuzaie| Getty via AFP
Muqtada al-Sadr campaigned on eliminating corruption while appealing to Iraq's poorest areas during his run-up to Iraq's parliamentary election on May 12, 2018. Photo: Wathiq Khuzaie| Getty via AFP
By Salam Faraj

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A surprise alliance between the winners of Iraq's election appears to reflect manoeuvering by neighbouring Iran to form a broad Shiite coalition as it scrambles to protect its influence.

When nationalist cleric Moqtada Sadr's bloc scooped the most seats at May's poll it was seen as a blow for Tehran, long the dominant foreign player in conflict-hit Iraq.

Shiite firebrand Sadr had railed against both the influence of Iran and the United States, even drawing closer to Tehran's arch-foe Saudi Arabia as he insisted Iraqis should run their own affairs.

So an announcement on Tuesday that he was linking up with the pro-Iranian former fighters under Hadi al-Ameri who finished second at the election was a shock to Iraq's political class.

Insiders said the unlikely tie-up to try to form a new government came after Iran decided that if it couldn't beat Sadr, then it might be better to seek to join him.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Tehran had launched a political offensive to try to unite its allies and block Sadr's path to power.

But Iran changed tack on realising pushing the popular cleric aside was too problematic, and instead sought to include Sadr in a Shiite alliance broad enough to neutralise his influence.

At a meeting Sunday with Ameri and former premier Nuri al-Maliki at Iran's embassy in Baghdad, top emissaries from Tehran apparently endorsed a link-up with Sadr as the lesser of two evils.

"Dismissing Moqtada Sadr could allow him to assemble other groups and increase the criticism levelled at Iran's role in Iraq," said a source close to participants of the meeting.

The gathering involved influential Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Mojtaba Khamenei, son of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soleimani used the opportunity to call for "a strong government, far from American and Saudi pressure and from foreign interference", the same source told AFP.

If the broad Shiite alliance gets off the ground Iran will be "the first to support the next government in Iraq," Soleimani was quote as saying.

'Pragmatic' politicians

Ahmad al-Assadi, spokesman for Ameri's Conquest Alliance, said it was natural that outside powers were interested in what was happening in Iraq.

Developments in the country are "important for neighbouring countries and great powers, especially Iran and the US", he told AFP.

Iran has become the major player since the US-led invasion of 2003, while the Americans led a coalition to oust the Islamic State group last year.

"It's evident that their representatives in Iraq follow the situation, pose questions and offer advice," Assadi said.

While the alliance between Ameri and Sadr might appear unlikely, analysts said both have a track record as practical politicians.

Ahead of the elections they pitched themselves as outsiders looking to sweep clean the tarnished elite that has dominated Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

"Pragmatic positioning rather than ideology has governed their behaviour in recent years," said Iraq analyst Fanar Haddad.

He said that even if a government turned out to be ostensibly closer to Tehran it could not shut out US influence entirely.

"Messaging and ideology aside, practically speaking no Iraqi government today — especially a broad coalition as the next one is likely to be — can actually be anti-Iranian or anti-American," he said.

A broad coalition

As the coalition government materialises, three candidates have emerged for the post of prime minister.

They are outgoing premier Haider al-Abadi, his interior minister Qassem al-Araji who is close to Ameri, and Mohammad al-Sudani, a former rights minister under Maliki.

"There will be other candidates but the Shiite alliance must choose two who will be put to a vote by the new parliament," the source from the embassy meeting said.

The alliance sealed at Sadr's home in Najaf, south of Baghdad, is however just the first step towards an even larger coalition according to Assadi.

"We have invited all of the lists elected to participate in writing a government programme which they will agree on," he said.

Sadr has already signed a coalition agreement with Shiite Ammar al-Hakim's Al-Hikma list and the secular outgoing vice-president Iyad Allawi, whose list was comprised largely of Sunnis.

But for some within the cleric's Marching Towards Reform alliance — a coupling of Sadr supporters and communists — the vision is different.

Raed Fahmi, head of the Iraqi Communist Party, said he is seeking a pro-reform alliance and has found common ground with Ameri's Conquest Alliance.

"But that's not the case with all of the groups and we are not looking to put together a Shiite alliance," he said, singling out Maliki's bloc.

"We campaigned against corruption and for the renewal of the political class."

Comments

 
Got it wrong again | 15/6/2018
No! he chose the Iranians? so shocking! some cluless American officials and (paid) analysts were celebrating Sadrs victory, most people here knew that Sadr's anti Iranian stance was never deep, and it could may very well have been staged. Even if he had kind of a fall out with the Iranians for a short while it's nothing near the hate and despise he has shown for the Americans. People have short memories, Sadr fought the American's back in 2003-2006 nothing of the sort with the Iranians, just some heated rerhoric from time to time, and that I think was more due to the fact that he felt left out the power structure in Iraq than anything else. Iran will make him king and he will kick out the Americans, wait and see.
Indian | 15/6/2018
Ha ha the Iranians put on a horse and ponny show and the US administration swallowed it up like candy. Once again the Iranain regime out maneuveres and beats the US in Iraq, and it's prefect timing because the kurds have lost trust in the US after the referendum betrayal. All sadr(Iran) has to do now is normalize things with KRg and they will gladly work with him
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