Political Conflict That Could Lead to Shi’ite-Shi’ite Armed Conflict

Sadr's Supporters Thwart Iran Supporters’ Plans to Choose PM
Hundreds of protesters have breached a high-security zone in Baghdad and broken into Iraq's parliament building.
The supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr oppose the nomination of a rival candidate for prime minister.
Sadr’s supporters penetrated Baghdad's closely-guarded Green Zone - which is home to a number of the capital city's most important buildings including embassies.

Iraqi demonstrators, the majority of whom are supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement, stormed the headquarters of the Iraqi parliament last Saturday. Their goal is to prevent the coordination framework (which includes political forces, the majority of which are loyal to Iran) from holding a session to elect the president of the republic and assigning parliament member Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani as head of the next government to replace the current caretaker government led by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

The confrontation within the Shi’ite faction began when the results of the October 2021 parliamentary elections were announced. The Sadrist movement won 73 seats in parliament and forged an alliance with parties like Progress Party led by Mohamed Al-Halbousi, the Azm Movement headed by Khamis Al-Khanjar and the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masoud Barzani. They abandoned their former allies who represent today the comprehensive coordinating framework for the following political forces -- the State of Law Coalition led by Nouri al-Maliki, the National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim, the Victory Coalition headed by Haider al-Abadi, the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, as well as the head of the Popular Mobilization Authority, Faleh al-Fayyad.

Al-Sadr nominated his cousin Jaafar al-Sadr, who is Iraq's ambassador to Britain, for the position of prime minister of the next government. Jaafar is the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Dawa Party, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

The Sadr-Al-Halbousi-Al-Khanjar-Barzani alliance was able to divide the positions between themselves beginning with the process of announcing the presidency of the parliament, which was granted to Al-Halbousi, a Sunni, who appointed his two deputies from the Shiite and Kurdish blocs of Al-Sadr and Barzani.

When they moved to the second step, which is choosing the position of the President of the Republic from the Kurds, the Federal Court issued a decision to prevent the announcement of the President of the Republic in the absence of a vote by 220 deputies out of 329 deputies.  The coalition failed to obtain this margin after the independent deputies refused to enter into any party alliance.  As a result, the political process entered into the most complex crisis since 2003.

Al-Sadr stipulated that the coordination framework be abandoned, in exchange for an alliance with him and the formation of a political majority.  However, this was rejected by the parties to the framework and the country entered a state of constitutional vacuum.

This forced al-Sadr and members of the Sadrist bloc to withdraw from parliament, which contributed to the coordination framework’s obtaining a political majority of 130 seats.

The coordination framework went a long way in the negotiations to form the government, which reached understandings with the Union Party led by BafelTalabani (son of the former president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani) and the Sunnis, to pass their candidate Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani during the parliament session that was scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 30, 2022.

That would place Muqtada Al-Sadr outside the entire political process and unable to draw up the next parliamentary elections law.  It was this situation that thwarted convening the session which resulted in Al-Sadr’s supporters storming the parliament building.

Al-Sadr is considered the only Shiite politician who has the ability to bring thousands of his supporters to the streets, and force the political blocs to implement his demands, as happened in 2016 and 2019.

The coordination framework considered al-Sadr sit-ins as a coup against the political system, which would lead to their exclusion from the political scene, as a result of the popular rejection of their presence.

Informed sources told Majalla that "Al-Sadr demands an end to the role of the Shiite militias, most of which are under the influence of Al-Maliki, in addition to ending the political presence of the latter," noting that "the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Ismail Qaani, visited Iraq more than once and failed to settle the differences between the Shiite parties that won the elections.”

They stressed that "Al-Sadr will raise the ceiling of his demands, after the tenth of Muharram, which is the anniversary of the killing of Hussein bin Ali, one of the Shiite imams.  This may lead to the overthrow of the political system, especially since Al-Sadr received international signals that Iraq has turned into a source of concern for several countries due to the militias that started targeting several neighboring countries.”

They added that other political parties, particularly the Kurds and Sunnis, reject the process of changing the political system to a presidential one, because it would limit their role in the new system.

The confidence of Iraqis in the current political system has weakened insofar as 43% of the voters participated in the previous parliamentary elections, which is the lowest percentage from 2003 until the present date.

A number of observers confirmed that this percentage is incorrect and that it does not exceed 30%.

The increased popular rejection of the political class is due to the spread of financial and administrative corruption, the absence of health, education and other services, in addition to foreign interference by Iran and some other countries.

This week, al-Sadr extended his sit-ins from the southern side to the northern side of the Green Zone.  He formed a committee of the leaders of the Sadrist movement to maintain the momentum of the sit-ins, and to hold a unified prayer in the celebrations square, which is the square in which the army forces celebrate the anniversary of their founding.

Al-Sadr had called on the Iraqi people to gain wealth, change the current political system, remove the corrupt and hold them accountable, confine weapons to the state, and abolish militias.

Al-Sadr's sit-ins were supported by most of the Iraqi clans, in addition to the Iraqi Jurisprudence Council, which is the religious authority for the Sunnis of Iraq, and a number of leaders in the Iraqi uprising that took place in 2019 and is called the "October Revolution."

That gained al-Sadr a great momentum, with the aim of holding the corrupt accountable and overthrowing them, and forming a future government that would include al-Sadr and the independents from the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis.

Regarding the opinions of the protesters, Majallatoured the parliament dome after it was stormed by al-Sadr’s supporters, who chanted against the coordination framework and Iran, which has had the strongest hand in forming governments during past years and has been choosing a prime minister who represents Iran’s political, economic and social interests in Iraq.

The government headquarters are located in the Green Zone, which is in the center of Baghdad, and no Iraqi may enter unless he obtains a license from the security authorities. He must present two documents from the government for the purpose of allowing him to enter the designated place.

Muqtada Ali, a supporter of al-Sadr, told Majalla that "this headquarters (parliament) for years did not serve the interests of the Iraqis, but rather the interests of Iran. Today, we have disabled it to express the aspirations of the Iraqi people only, end their suffering and contribute to building legislation that eliminates unemployment and poverty.”

He added that the Iraqis now have the final word, and not the Iranians or what they represent, noting that the next prime minister will be an Iraqi “who will defend our economic and commercial interests and prevent Iranian and Turkish interference in our affairs.”

On the other hand, Umm Ali, speaking to Majalla as Parliament's rapporteur, said, "Parliament is the house of the people, although it was previously the house of the corrupt. Now we have liberated it, and allowed the citizens to enter it, after it was impossible for them to even look at it."

She added, "Al-Sadr is leading the reform revolution, first to expel the corrupt and arrange the internal house, and then prevent and stop foreign interference, for the rule is to be returned to the Iraqis, after being held by the Iranians."

Meanwhile, an official in al-Sadr's office in Baghdad, Ibrahim Al-Jabri, told a number of media outlets, including Majalla, that this popular revolution is to reform the political system, eliminate financial and administrative corruption, and end terrorism.

He stressed that there are some parties trying to create sedition to eliminate the national demonstrations, but they were surprised by the support of the revolution from the clans, unions and all the Iraqi people.

He indicated that al-Sadr wanted pride and sovereignty for Iraq, which the country had lost because of the corrupt parties that held power since 2003.

On the other hand, the political researcher, Nabil Jabbar Al-Ali, told Majalla that "the political crisis can no longer be resolved by the political class using traditional methods that are linked to the distribution of quotas and satisfaction through the distribution of positions.

“Some politicians have involved themselves in adopting demands for a high ceiling that may not be easy to reach. Especially so for those demands that call for radical changes in the political system.  The Iraqi system is based on component diversity and the political participation of the components, and it may not be possible to pass any new constitution without the consent of the rest of the components while maintaining the survival and the undivided cohesion of Iraq.”

Al-Ali added: "I think that the crisis, after the conflicting parties, especially the Sadrist movement and the coordination framework exhausted the chances of its maximum consolidation, may resort to sitting down at the table for a dialogue that would chart the near future for Iraq with the participation of other political parties. That table may be prepared to make constitutional amendments that would improve the outcomes of the political process, end federal disputes and direct politics towards partnership instead of competition.”

He added, however, that this will not be an easy task, as the political divisions are large, especially those related to federal issues, and the level of political awareness of the political class may be different, which may cause difficulty in conducting a useful dialogue with practical outcomes.

Al-Ali expected that the political parties would resort to expanding the work of federations so that Iraq would be made up of several federations and decentralized administrations, or that Iraq might resort to changing the system to a semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary system, but this approach might collide with fears of the dominance of the majority, or collide with the distribution of powers between factions.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi put forward an initiative to end the political stalemate, represented by a national dialogue that would take place through a committee that includes representatives from all political parties, to develop a roadmap for a solution, in addition to making al-Sadr supporters evacuate the parliament building and cooperate with the security forces.

The coordination framework, the Kurds and the Sunnis, in addition to the international community such as France, Britain and America interacted with this initiative, but so far al-Sadr has not supported or rejected Al-Kazemi's initiative.

It seems that al-Sadr will accept the survival of Al-Kadhimi's government for a year, and the holding of early elections according to the previous parliamentary elections law serving al-Sadr and which is rejected by the coordination framework that wants to legislate a new election law, as it is harmed by the previous law.

Professor of Political Science at Nahrain University, Dr. Osama Al-Saidi, said that the differences between the coordination framework and al-Sadr have shifted from the political corridors to the streets, and now they are in the containment stage, through the initiatives that were put forward, including Al-Kadhimi’s initiative, indicating that Al-Kadhimi is acceptable to al-Sadr, but is rejected by the coordination framework.

He added that the nomination of the next prime minister can only be achieved through a consensus between the coordination framework and Sadr, noting that 65% of the public is a silent majority, and did not participate in the last elections, but is now monitoring the situation and may have an opinion.

He explained that the return of the Sadrist bloc to parliament is one of the existing solutions to the crisis, or holding early elections by dissolving the current parliament, or the coordination between the framework agreement and al-Sadr on an independent prime minister who does not interfere in his work.  Afterwards, they would carry out a process of reform and conduct a population census with the aim of holding independent elections and restoring public confidence in the political system.

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