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January 20 2022 4:14 PM ˚
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Iraq’s goal to form a government is a marathon, not a sprint

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
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Three months after Iraq’s legislative elections, the country’s fifth parliament held its first session on Sunday amid heightened tensions, especially among various Shiite blocs and parties. The session saw fist fights and interruptions as two opposing Shiite groups – the so-called coordination framework, which is dominated by pro-Iran parties and militias and the Sadrist bloc led by nationalist cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr – claimed to have a majority.اضافة اعلان

While the Sadrists and their Sunni and Kurdish allies won the day, succeeding in electing a speaker and his two deputies, the split of the Shiite camp will haunt the new parliament as it moves slowly to elect a new president and prime minister.

The formation of the next government is a marathon, and not a sprint. The coming weeks will witness further confrontations inside parliament, but political rivalries could ignite a cycle of violence across the country.

The Shiite split is the most serious since a new constitution was adopted in 2005, two years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Based on a quota system, the Shiite majority was able to run the country virtually uncontested. But that domination came at a hefty price. Pro-Iran politicians allowed Tehran to infiltrate the political stage and arm proxy militias that became a threat to the stability of the state. Ethno-sectarian tensions deepened and led to the persecution of Sunnis who, in turn, provided an incubator to radical extremists, including Al-Qaeda and Daesh.

Iraq was on the verge of collapse as a state, as mass corruption, terrorism, sectarian violence and poverty gnawed at the state’s main institutions.

 If change was needed, it had to come from within the Shiite camp; thus Sadr’s insistence to form a national majority government that rejects the quota system and calls for disarming all militias as the only way to save the country and change the current trajectory.

His message was embraced by millions of Iraqis leading to his bloc winning 73 seats in the country’s 329-seat parliament. On the other side, the pro-Iran Al-Fatah bloc saw its share collapse to just 17 seats from 48.

The fact that Mohammed Al-Halbousi was re-elected as speaker means that Sadr and his Sunni allies, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), will be declared the largest bloc, which will allow them to select the president and prime minister.

The coordination, led by former prime minister Nuri Al Maliki and Fatah coalition, had tried to lure Sadr into keeping the Shiite camp unified, but he was unrelenting. Their attempt to contest election results and even intimidate judges and Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi failed. Fatah leaders threatened to use force to change election results and also failed.

Sadr’s only compromise was that if he is not allowed to form a national majority government, his bloc will sit in the opposition. It now seems that he is on his way to lure independent deputies to his camp as well.

That is not to say that his mission onward will be smooth sailing. His Shiite rivals will do their best to derail the next government. Some observers believe that because of the enormity of challenges facing the next government, Iraqis will not feel an immediate improvement in their livelihood. Lurking in the shadows is Iran which will fight to keep its influence over Iraqi politics.

If, or when, Sadr’s broad coalition succeeds in forming a new government — that goal will take months to happen — he will need the support of Iraq’s Arab neighbors. Even though Kadhimi’s government made little progress in economic reforms and improving basic services, he was able to distance his country from the US-Iran showdown. In fact, Kadhimi proved himself a nationalist with no connection to a foreign agenda.

Kadhimi remains favorite to be nominated again as premier; an anathema to Maliki and his partners. His politics is in line with that of Sadr and he has the backing of Iraq’s Arab neighbors. He has confirmed that remaining US troops will only offer training and consultations to the Iraqi army. He also wants all armed militias to disarm.

The road ahead for Iraq is not easy. Armed militias, under the so-called Popular Mobilization Units will resist disarming. Their ideological attachment to Iran will continue to threaten Iraq’s stability. The next Iraqi government will have a tough time fulfilling Sadr’s mandate of bringing Iraq back to the Arab fold.

It is ironic that Iraq’s biggest challenge is coming from its own citizens who have no qualm seeing their country becoming an Iranian dependency.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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