Iraq Pulse

New political alliance unites Iraqi religious and secular parties

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Article Summary
In a sudden development, the Sadrist movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr and the National Coalition led by Ayad Allawi announced the formation of a political alliance in the upcoming elections.

BAGHDAD — Amid the search for suitable alliances among political parties, the Sadrist movement surprised its popular base June 22 by announcing an agreement with the Al-Wataniya coalition (National Coalition) led by Ayad Allawi. The two parties will form a new political bilateral alliance by unifying political stances regarding pending issues, expediting the legislation of suspended laws and finding solutions to the country’s problems before the 2018 parliamentary elections.

The Sadrists traditionally have been led by activist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, while Al-Wataniya has generally been seen as a secular party.

The Sadrist Political Committee issued a statement, saying, “The two parties have agreed on forming a parliamentary front that includes members from the movement and coalition. The members are to reach understandings that are in line with the post-Mosul liberation phase [from the Islamic State (IS)] and expedite the rectification of the electoral process by changing the members of the electoral commission and choosing independent figures who live up to people’s expectations. The Sadrist-Allawi alliance also is to approve a new electoral law that guarantees voter opinion and contributes to a political process that respects Iraqis’ will.”

Al-Wataniya coalition member of parliament Jamila al-Obeidi said that the Sadrist movement is the group closest to having a unified national identity, making it easier to reach a political agreement with the Sadrists to serve the country.

Obeidi said sectarian and political bickering as well as regional interventions have torn Iraq apart, scattered its wealth and ruined its economy. Therefore, citizens must look at what remains. She told Al-Monitor, “The new alliance does not mind uniting with other political parties that believe in a national project to build an Iraqi state based on unity and sovereignty and shunning any meddling in its affairs.”

When asked about the new alliance and whether it breaks the rule of alliances based on political sectarianism, Obeidi said, “The alliance will indeed help overcome this hurdle, given its sectarian variety. It will open the door to pure national alliances that only care about reform, banking on the political process and willing to end the marginalization and dismissal of others.”

She added, “We will revisit all laws passed in parliament such as the terrorism law and the de-Baathification law, and we will reform the judiciary and achieve real national reconciliation.”

Some claimed that the new alliance reflects Allawi’s aspirations to become prime minister, but Obeidi denied this. She said, “Whether Allawi gets the premiership or not depends on people’s will. We are trying to take a firm stance that protects us from foreign intervention, be it from Iran or other countries. We want to build a balanced relationship with all countries based on respect and nonintervention in others’ affairs.”

This new alliance surprised the Sadrist base, as the Sadrist movement and Al-Wataniya Coalition were at odds in the wake of the Najaf incidents in 2004, when the Iraqi army and the Sadr-led Mahdi Army fought after Allawi became interim prime minister.

The new parliamentary alliance bothered some Iraqi political parties, especially the National Alliance — the largest in parliament. Member of parliament Abdul Hadi Saadawi of the State of Law Coalition, which is part of the National Alliance, said, “Sadrists do not have the say in the political arena they did before. They are outside the dialogue circle of the alliance they left.”

Saadawi belittled the new alliance’s prospects of success. He said Allawi's National Coalition has lost its popularity and credibility in Sunni circles and has strayed too far. As a result, two Sunni alliances were born. The first is the Arab Project led by Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar, and the second is closer to the political majority and consists of an alliance of parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, the Islamic Party and the National Movement for Reform and Development (Solution party), among others.

Saadawi told Al-Monitor, “These alliances are just a political tempest in a teapot. They will not affect the program of the State of Law Coalition, which seeks to achieve a political majority government and rule the country once again.”

In the 2014 election, the State of Law Coalition won 92 of 328 seats, the Sadrist movement 34 and Al-Wataniyah 21; the Sadrists have been in the national spotlight due to protests they have been holding since 2015.

Saadawi added, “Allawi and the liberals are after the premiership. But they will fail because they do not have a political project in parliament serving people and aiming to build the country.”

He denied any outside Arab and other international intervention in choosing the prime minister and considered it “strictly an Iraqi affair.”

As per the provisions of the political agreement between the Sadrists and Allawi, the two parties will work to unite the political stances in parliament during the next stage. This step would serve the country’s best interests, Sadrist leader Amir al-Kanani said. The agreement will also engage both parties in a united electoral list in Baghdad, Maysan and Anbar provinces.

Kanani said, “Regarding the person who is most likely to occupy the premiership, we are open to all possibilities, including the National Alliance, which we hope will not hide away in Shiite regions. The new alliance mainly wants to end any foreign intervention in the political decision-making process and build clear and honest ties with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s government, in addition to finding a clear vision in our domestic and foreign affairs.”

He added, “We will try to reform the judicial, legislative and executive authorities and reach noncentralized administration in unstable areas in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. We will also dismiss the electoral commission and form a new UN-compliant commission.”

Iraqi political forces are currently busy uniting political stances and seeking new electoral coalitions to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2018. The electoral race is expected to be heated.

Found in: national alliance, iraqi kurdistan, sectarianism, iraqi parliament, sadrist movement, iraqi elections

Hassan al-Shanoun is an Iraqi journalist working for a number of local media outlets. He obtained his bachelor’s degree at the College of Mass Media at Baghdad University.

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