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Sadr withdrawal from Iraqi parliament challenges Shiite rivals

Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew his party members from Iraq's Council of Representatives, introducing a new level of uncertainty into Iraqi politics.
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr delivers a speech in the central Iraqi city of Najaf on June 3, 2022.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on June 12 ordered his members of parliament to collectively hand in their resignation to parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi.

Head of the parliamentary Sadrist bloc, Hassan al-Adhari, was seen later in a short video handing his party's resignations to Halbusi, with the latter signing them all at once.

Will this create an opportunity for Sadr’s rivals to form the government? Or will it create a challenge for them in the Iraqi street?

According to Iraq's electoral law, when a member of parliament resigns, the electoral commission replaces them with the candidate who placed second in the same electoral circle.

The 73 seats will therefore be distributed among the second place finishers, among the Fatah Alliance, which consists of Iran-backed militias; Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition; Kataib Hezbollah’s Huqooq Movement; Halbusi’s Taqaddum party; Emtedad, which is affiliated with some groups of the Tishreen movement; Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma bloc; and other small groups and independents.

Following Sadr's withdrawal, Halbusi announced, “The political blockage will not continue. We seek to form a government that will bear the responsibility of the political blocs for its success and failure.”

Halbusi said the legal procedure will be followed in terms of replacing resigned members, predicting that the political blockage would disappear soon.

But he alluded to the continued challenge of forming a new government after Sadr's withdrawal, saying, “The option of dissolving the parliament and organizing another early election is constitutional … but so far this option has not been raised.”

In the same vein, early tonight President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq Faiq Zaidan gathered to discuss the situation after Sadr's withdrawal.

The gathering was read as an attempt to take the process forward and form a new government.

The Coordination Framework, which consists of a Shiite rival group of the Sadrists, gathered tonight as well and issued a statement saying it would move toward forming a government to serve the nation’s interests.

Sadr's withdrawal certainly creates an opportunity for the Coordination Framework to form the government with an alliance of Sunnis and Kurds, which will provide enough members for the selection of the president and the prime minister and for forming the Cabinet.

At the moment, the Coordination Framework has about 70 members. The Sunnis are about 70 and the two Kurdish parties together are 60. With the replacement of the Sadrist seats, they will get about 40 more seats at least, making them total much more than the 220 required to select the president.

But the differences between the Coordination Framework itself and the Sunni and Kurdish groups are very sharp, which could make it very difficult to unite to form the government.

In particular, Hizb al-Dawa is divided between Maliki and Haidar al-Abadi. The competition between Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah is very sharp. Sayyed Ammar Hakim’s Hikma bloc had been campaigning against the militias gathered under Fatah for a long time, accusing them of acting outside of the state.

The Kurds have been targeted by the militias’ rockets and drones as well for a long time. These militias are affiliated with Fatah Alliance within the Coordination Framework. The Sunnis have long-standing differences with the militias as well due to the abusive behavior of the militias in the Sunni areas.

Former deputy of the Fatah Alliance Hamed Al-Moussawi warned both the Kurdish and Sunni parties about not accepting the formation of a government with the Coordination Framework, saying that “there are six brigades (factions of the Popular Mobilization Units) on the borders of the Kurdistan Region.”

It could be very difficult for Kurds and Sunnis to agree to form a government given the pressure from these groups.  

On the other side, Sadr will not remain silent and will certainly use the streets to create problems for any government in the event one is formed.

This is especially true due to Sadrists' popular presence in the Shiite community. The sweltering summer, lack of electricity and potable water among other basic services, will add fuel to the fire.

In a clear signal to a new wave of protests, Jalil al-Nouri, a close confidant of Sadr's, tweeted, “Whoever thinks that the revolution is over, they are delusional. Be careful of calm. It's always before the storm.”

In the same vein, Al-Jedar Telegram affiliated with the Sadrists posted today, "The Framework think that the Sadrist movement and Muqtada al-Sadr have abandoned their electoral entitlement and their largest bloc after the mass resignations [of parliament members]. They think that Iraq and the political process will be left for them to plunder and allow foreign interference. They are daydreaming; they forgot that the gates of hell will be opened in front of them and that the Sadrist movement is able to bring down any government they form within only a few hours. This is if parliament continues."

In such circumstances, three options seem to be on the table. The first option is forming a government without Sadrists, but such a government could be pressured from Sadrists in the streets. The second option is to have early elections soon, which is difficult due to the lack of agreement between political parties over the electoral law and the electoral commission — in addition to the fact that preparation for new elections requires a long effort in Iraq. The Kadhimi government was able to form early elections about 15 months after its formation. The third option is a caretaker government, likely accompanied by disorder in the streets and legal challenges from political forces and factions.

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