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Maliki, Sadr Vie for Largest Parliamentary Bloc in Iraq

Maliki, Sadr Vie for Largest Parliamentary Bloc in Iraq

Tuesday, 19 October, 2021 - 06:00
Employees at Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission conduct a manual vote count following the parliamentary elections in Baghdad’s Green Zone, October 13, 2021. (AFP)

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was the surprise second place winner in the recent parliamentary elections.


He is now competing with the victor and his rival, Sadrist movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr over forming the largest parliamentary bloc, which will give him an advantage in again assuming the position of prime minister.


His State of Law coalition won 36 votes in the legislature.


Maliki has not hidden his ambitions, but he will have to go through Sadr to achieve them, as well as the losing pro-Iran Shiite parties that have threatened to escalate their protests against the results by resorting to military action.


A source close to Maliki revealed that he has “tested the waters” with all winners on whether they would seek an alliance. He is now eying his next move.


Two leading members of his coalition said: “Maliki wants to form the largest bloc in parliament without leaving out any of his traditional Shiite rivals.”


Maliki left power seven years. He is viewed a man who can manage a crisis, in spite of his patchy political and security history. The former premier is a skilled negotiator and is good at delivering his political messages, as well as adjusting them to appease his supporters, partners and rivals when he has to. However, his trustworthiness remains questionable.


Asharq Al-Awsat met with three Iraqi leaders, who were known for their rivalry with Maliki between 2010 and 2014, for an assessment of the former premier and his recent victory.


They concluded that Maliki may “set the Shiite pace” in Iraq and end the tensions between the rival parties on the ground.


“He is, however, prone to turning against his partners due to his aspirations to limit power in his hands and loyalists,” they added.


Indeed, all political forces appear hesitant in expressing a clear position in joining an alliance led by Maliki.


Sunni and Kurdish blocs will stand aside at the moment as they wait and see how the Shiite parties approach the crisis that is being caused by the losers in the polls.


A Kurdish political aide said the situation is “complicated”.


“If we reach an agreement with Maliki, what will Sadr do? Where will the weapons of the armed factions, which lost some 20 parliament seats, go?” he asked.


Sadr, who won 73 seats, has thrown a wrench in Maliki’s plans.


The former PM has indeed started planning how to form the largest parliamentary bloc. He has so far shown political support to those opposing the results of the elections. This is not seen as a contradiction in his position as one of the victors, rather a maneuver that would open opportunities for him with others in the future.


Among the options at his disposal is taking advantage of the street protests the losing parties have staged. He may use the rallies to reach an understanding with Sadr to resolve the crisis and form the largest bloc and at the same time offer guarantees to the losers.


At the end of the day, Maliki is aware that he cannot exclude Sadr, said a senior member of the State of Law coalition.


A source inside the coalition said Maliki believes that the international community, specifically the United States, is not keen on working with a Sadrist government that has anti-western sentiments. Maliki, is therefore, appearing to force Sadr to negotiate.


On the other end, Sadr appears to be calmer than usual. He has said he wanted to form a purely Sadrist government. He has since appeared to back down from that position. He wrote last week: “Winning the elections is not more important than meeting the needs of all Iraqis.”


At any rate, negotiations to form a new government will not be easy. The elections results, which mathematically should not lead to any complications for the main victor, may still be exploited to either close or widen the gap between Sadr and Maliki.


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