Government crisis in Iraq: Pro-Iranian Shiites remain stubborn

The pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq are sticking to their prime ministerial candidate. The nomination triggered a storm in Parliament.

Two men stand on an armored military vehicle

During the violent riots on August 30 in Baghdad Photo: Ahmed Saad/Reuters

BAGHDAD taz | The struggle for power in Iraq between the pro-Iranian so-called coordination framework and the supporters of the Shiite cleric and politician Muqtada Sadr is entering the next round.

The Coordination Framework, a coalition of pro-Iranian parties and militias united by their opposition to Sadr, wants to continue to support its candidate for the post of prime minister, Mohammad Shia al-Sudani.

The last elections in Iraq found in October 2021 instead of. But to this day no new government has been formed. A point of contention: who will be the country's next prime minister.

The hot phase of the current political crisis began in early June: MPs loyal to Sadr withdrew from parliament. The coordination framework used the withdrawal of its opponents to start negotiations to form a government and nominated al-Sudani as a candidate for the post of prime minister, to be chosen by parliament.

Sadr's followers had repeatedly stormed Parliament

However, Parliament had been completely paralyzed since the end of July. Sadr and his followers were responsible for this: They had stormed the parliament several times, trying to force early elections and their dissolution.

Parliament resumed its work last Monday, albeit without the Sadr bloc. “The conflict we are witnessing is a struggle for political legitimacy. Due to the low turnout last year, all political parties lacked this. Sadr has more legitimacy in relative terms because he won more seats and has a larger following,” explains sociologist and Iraq expert Ruba al-Hassani.

The conflict between the two Shia factions had recently claimed at least 30 lives: At the end of August, armed Sadr supporters first stormed parliament but then withdrew on the orders of their leader, who eventually also resigned as a politician.

"Sadr's recent resignation is a way for him to wash his hands of the recent violence," added al-Hassani.

Politics and religion are closely intertwined

After Sadr, another important figure in Iraq's political and religious landscape announced his resignation at the end of August: Kazem al-Haeri – a Shia Maya, the supreme religious authority for the Twelver Sect of Shia Muslims, to which many Iraqis belong. Politics and religion are closely intertwined in Iraq: Al-Haeri was for a long time the religious leader who was followed by the Sadr loyalists. When he resigned, he called on his supporters to rally behind Iranian politician and cleric Ali Khamenei - a move Sadr feels challenged by.

"None of this justifies Sadr's actions, but it does help explain it. Tehran is less of a spectator and more of a behind-the-scenes actor in Iraq — the puppeteer,” says al-Hassani.

Hayder al-Khoei, a Middle East observer specializing in Iraq, explains that past and current Iraqi governments are not innocent of the country's political chaos. Sadr was strengthened and encouraged by them - as a counterbalance to the militias supported by Iran. “This short-sighted policy of survival has consequences, and the recent escalation was just a taste of it. Previous Iraqi governments have done just the opposite, opening up the state and its institutions to Iran-backed militias. But using the mafia to fight another mafia is a very dangerous game and, as always, it is the people and the country that suffer,” he explains.

The so-called Coordination Framework emerged after last October's elections: a group of parties and militias opposed to Sadr. They are made up of Shia forces close to or supported by Iran. The association also includes the Asa'ib-Ahl-al-Haq militia - a group that fought against US troops in Iraq, among other things. They are accused of killing civilian activists during the October 2019 uprising. At the time, many Iraqis were protesting for economic reforms and an end to widespread corruption.

“Our demand is a change of government”

Mustafa Hasana is a 19-year-old student from the southern Iraqi city of Basra. He is a supporter of Sadr and also joined the recent protests in Baghdad. "I'm with them protests 2018 took to the streets as an Iraqi citizen to demand better services such as health, water and electricity. But after the killing of several protesters, the content of the protests changed. Our demand now is a change of government,” he says. It also includes Kata'ib Hezbollah – the most powerful Iran-backed militia allied with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. It is run by the US government as a terrorist group.

Political scientist Marsin Alshamary says: “The engines of civil war in Iraq have been there for years. In particular, the presence of armed groups, unemployed youth and an increasingly unpopular government are contributing factors. Although the worst of tensions have now passed, structural factors will continue to plague Iraq.”

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