Iraq’s Sadr will have to work with pro-Iran groups to select a prime minister.
Moqtada Sadr, the fiery cleric who won Iraq’s election, will still have to negotiate with his opponents, who are linked to armed pro-Iranian militias, to form a new administration.
War-scarred Iraq, an oil-rich country beset by corruption and poverty, held its fifth parliamentary elections on Sunday since Saddam Hussein was deposed by a US-led invasion in 2003.
Sadr, a Shiite Muslim preacher who once led an anti-US militia, ran as a nationalist, criticizing the influence of Iraq’s large neighbor Iran, which has risen significantly since Saddam’s demise.
Initially vowing to boycott the elections, the political outcast soon entered the fray, declaring in recent months that he will be the one to determine Iraq’s next prime minister.
At first look, his party’s election victory appears to support this viewpoint. According to preliminary results, the Sadrists won 70 of the 329 seats in the assembly, extending their advantage.
Analysts believe Sadr will now have to reconcile with his foes, the pro-Iran Shiite groups allied to the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network.
According to preliminary findings, Hashed’s political wing, the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, lost more than half of its 48 deputies.
“The results give Sadr an advantage in terms of politics and bargaining stance, but it isn’t the only factor here,” said Renad Mansour of the Chatham House think tank.
The Hashed “has lost political power by losing seats, but they still have coercive power, which will be used in negotiating,” he added of the movement, which has over 160,000 men under arms, according to estimates.
Despite the implied “threat of violence,” Mansour does not expect a flare-up, but he does warn: “That doesn’t mean that each side won’t use threats and sometimes violence… to indicate that they have that authority.”
Since Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led administration fell, Iraqi politics has been dominated by Shiite Muslim majority factions.
They are, however, becoming increasingly divided, particularly on how they feel about their powerful Shiite neighbor Iran, which competes with the US for strategic influence in Iraq.
The Hashed were founded in 2014 to combat the Sunni-extremist Islamic State group, and they made their first appearance in the legislature in the 2018 election after playing a key part in the defeat of IS.
Hashed’s armed units, which have now been merged into Iraq’s official security forces, are accused by opposition activists of being loyal to Iran and functioning as a tool of oppression against them. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.