As rivals take to the streets, Iraq is in constitutional limbo

(File photo: AFP)

Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

It has been 10 months since Iraq held a legislative election, the fifth in the post-Saddam era, and yet political rivals are gridlocked, unable to name a new prime minister and head of state. The country now finds itself in an uncharted constitutional no-man’s land, having exceeded all timelines allowed to form a new government. اضافة اعلان

At the core of the political impasse is the chasm separating populist firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose list won the most seats in parliament, and pro-Iran rivals now working under the umbrella of the Coordination Framework.

Pro-Iran parties and coalitions, including the so-called Popular Mobilization Units represented by Al-Fatah, lost seats in the elections, but retained a veto over Sadr’s ability to form a national coalition, a non-sectarian government of technocrats. His efforts to force a new political reality blocked, Sadr ordered his deputies to resign last June, adding to the ongoing chaos.

And when his Shiite rivals, led by the controversial former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, tried to name their own candidate as premier, Sadr called on his supporters to storm the legislature building and hold a sit-in. By doing so he paralyzed the political process.

After a tense 10-day standoff, Sadr gave orders to his followers to leave the parliament building, but to hold an open-ended sit-in in the Green Zone. His rivals called on their own supporters to hold a similar sit-in across the river. This has become a tug-of-war, with each side attempting to prove that it has command of the street. But in this challenge, Sadr knows that he has the upper hand.

When he gave a week to the Supreme Judicial Council to step in and dissolve parliament and order a new election, the council said that it had no authority to do so. He then presented the same ultimatum to Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court and waited. But not before his aides issued a call to supporters across the nation to hold a million-man protest next Saturday, congregating in Al-Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
The current stand-off could last for weeks or even months. It is disheartening that Iraq’s future lies largely outside its borders, in Tehran and Washington.
Iraq has gone through a series of debacles since the US invasion in 2003. It has seen sectarian strife that ripped the country apart, went through the tumult of anti-US guerilla war and almost succumbed to the horrendous rampage of Daesh. In between, it saw a new political clique emerge, one that pilfered billions at the expense of ordinary Iraqis. But most of all, the US invasion allowed Iran to infiltrate the skewed political system and create pro-Iran militias that weakened the central government.

While successive political figures were discredited by their own track records, of subservience to Tehran or Washington, and collusion in the mass larceny of the country’s resources, Sadr reinvented himself as a nationalist Iraqi leader who wants his country to rid itself of US and Iranian hegemony while replacing the ethno-sectarian system that has crippled his country for years.

Sadr may have been encouraged by the deafening silence of Iraq’s spiritual leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who chose not to take sides in the current intra-Shiite squabble — until now. In the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis from all walks of life, Sadr has the upper hand and he knows that he can mobilize millions if that is what it takes to force his rivals to back down.

It could be why a key member of the Coordination Framework, Hadi Al-Ameri, chose to mediate and find a way out before things get out of hand. He supports dialogue, which, he says, could end in enabling the holding of new elections. But Sadr wants to change the election law as well. That is a red line for the pro-Iran camp.

The reality is that Iraq’s caretaker government, under Mustapha Al-Kadhimi, is now powerless, unable to approve a budget, spend money, or draft new laws. The current stand-off could last for weeks or even months. It is disheartening that Iraq’s future lies largely outside its borders, in Tehran and Washington.

Sadr’s gambit of mobilizing the street may work, but it could also misfire. The specter of an intra-Shiite bloody faceoff is not far-fetched. The Coordination Framework, still united, is now calling for its own counter mass demonstrations. That impasse may linger while the country succumbs to a perfect storm of political disarray, economic collapse, internecine infighting, and the dire effects of climate change that is rendering major parts of Iraq a wasteland.

Millions of Iraqis continue to suffer as the political clique scrambles to maintain influence and economic dividends. As things stand today, the outlook is somber, to say the least. Iraq is in limbo and a breakthrough leading to detente seems an impossible feat.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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