Congruence of stances signals shaping of Kadhimi-Salih alliance

The prime minister will not be able to publicly participate in the leadership of any new political project because of pledges made to Shia forces.

Tuesday 15/09/2020
President Barham Salih (C-L) receiving Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi at Salam Palace in the capital Baghdad, last May. (AFP)
President Barham Salih (C-L) receiving Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi at Salam Palace in the capital Baghdad, last May. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi were seen meeting in private at the foothills of the city of Sulaymaniyah, leading to speculation about the likely birth of a new political project in Iraq.

Salih and Kadhimi are quite close. They worked together in the media and other domains and grew even closer when Salih became president of the republic and Kadhimi was head of the intelligence service.

Since securing parliament’s approval for his government, Kadhimi has been holding quasi-periodic meetings with the president, with whom he usually holds identical positions.

During Kadhimi’s recent visit to the Kurdistan region in the north of the country, Salih hosted him in his private farm in the city of Sulaymaniyah, which is surrounded by mountains and highlands.

Pictures taken from a distance showed the president and prime minister during moments of friendly discussion, which added to speculation that they may cooperate to form a political project to be launched during the upcoming elections slated for next summer.

Observers place Kadhimi and Salih among forces close to the popular movement that was launched in October 2019 due to their positions in support of the protesters.

A few weeks ago, Iraqi social media activists began calling political parties espousing the discourse of the popular movement as “the pro-state forces”, to distinguish them from “no-state forces” which include parties affiliated with Iran, and militias challenging the official institutions with illegal weapons.

Many in Iraq believe that the upcoming battle, which may take the form of an armed confrontation or an electoral competition, is going to be between pro-state forces and no-state forces and that it will determine the country’s future direction.

There is speculation that Kadhimi and Salih may head a new political project that adopts the discourse of the popular movement that wants to recapture the state from the militias that are promoting Iran’s agenda in and outside of Iraq.

Kadhimi, however, will not be able to publicly participate in the leadership of any new political project, as he already pledged to Shia political forces that he would not run in upcoming elections.

Shia political forces are banking on Kadhimi’s pledge to protect their eroding popular influence.

They realise that the prime minister’s position in itself is a factor that attracts voters, given the great aura surrounding him, his broad executive powers and his constitutional control of the armed forces, the police and the various security services, some of which play essential roles in organising and managing the elections.

Add to that Kadhimi’s personal appeal and his bias towards the discourse of the popular movement and the prime minister will turn into a real threat to all Shia centres of political influence in the upcoming elections.

This explains why the Shia forces sought right from the beginning to compel Kadhimi to pledge not to run in the upcoming elections, before approving his appointment as prime minister.

Some observers place Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi alongside Kadhimi and Salih in the forthcoming political project, thus creating a triumvirate that matches the sectarian and national composition of Iraq, but with secular, not religious, backgrounds.

Observers say that this triad could attract a wide swathe of Iraqi voters during the upcoming poll.

The congruence of stances between the poles of this hypothetical political alliance was evident in their favourable reactions to the position of the supreme Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani, who declared his support for early elections, the confinement of weapons to official state institutions and preventing militias affiliated with Iran from dividing Iraq.