With eyes on victory in Iraq early polls, Sadrists up the ante

“Delaying the elections would be a disaster for Iraq,” said Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, warning that rival parties would try to rig the vote.
Wednesday 10/02/2021
Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a statement in a rare press conference outside his home in Iraq’s holy city Najaf, on February 10, 2021. (AFP)
Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a statement in a rare press conference outside his home in Iraq’s holy city Najaf, on February 10, 2021. (AFP)

 NAJAF, Iraq – Populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday he backed early elections overseen by the UN, in a rare news conference outside his home in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf.

Iraq is meant to hold early parliamentary elections this year, a central demand of an anti-government protest movement which erupted in 2019 and involved Sadr’s supporters.

The elections were initially set for June, nearly a year ahead of schedule, but have since been pushed back to October.

Appearing in a surgical mask and traditional clerical robes, Sadr warned against further delays.

“Delaying the elections would be a disaster for Iraq,” said Sadr, warning that rival parties would try to rig the vote.

“I don’t want fraud. That’s why I’m asking for UN intervention and supervision,” he said.

An Iraqi woman receives her new voter ID at an Independent High Electoral Commission center in Baghdad, Iraq January 20, 2021. (Reuters)
An Iraqi woman receives her new voter ID at an Independent High Electoral Commission center in Baghdad, Iraq January 20, 2021. (Reuters)

The elections will be taking place under a new electoral law that has reduced the size of constituencies and eliminated list-based voting in favour of votes for individual candidates.

Sadr’s supporters are expected to make major gains under the new system.

In November, Sadr said he would push for the next prime minister to be a member of his movement for the first time.

On Tuesday, leading Sadrist lawmaker Hakim al-Zameli upped the ante in a televised interview.

“If the premiership goes to any party other than the Sadrist movement, it means the elections are rigged,” he said.

His comments came a day after Sadr supporters equipped with heavy weapons took to the streets of Najaf and other cities, including Baghdad.

They stood guard along major highways in a show of force lasting a few hours.