Iraq’s Sadr announces alliance with pro-Iranian Amiri

The move by Sadr was unexpected by much of the political class as he had suggested unwillingness to work with Amiri
Wednesday 13/06/2018
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during a news conference with Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, in the city of Najaf, on June 12. (Reuters)
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during a news conference with Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, in the city of Najaf, on June 12. (Reuters)

BAGHDAD - Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iranian-backed militia chief Hadi al-Amiri, who won first and second place respectively in Iraq’s May parliamentary election, announced an alliance between their political blocs.

The move by Sadr, who is staunchly opposed to Iranian involvement in the country, was unexpected by much of the political class as he had suggested unwillingness to work with Amiri and his bloc of pro-Iranian former fighters.

The announcement, which made from the Shia holy city of Najaf, is the first serious step towards forming a new government after weeks of negotiations between parties. It comes exactly one month after an election marred by historically low turnout and fraud allegations.

The two Shia figures said they would keep the door open for other winning blocs to join them in forming a new government.

Sadr hailed the formation of “a true alliance to accelerate the formation of a national government away from any dogmatism”.

“Our meeting was a very positive one, we met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people. Our new alliance is a nationalist one,” Sadr said.

Amiri said: “This is a call to all those who care about national interests… we will set up committees to discuss with all ways to accelerate the drafting of a government program.”

Sadr, a former militia leader who led two uprisings against the US occupation that ended in 2011, has called for his country to be more independent from both Iran and the US. He has emerged as a nationalist opponent of powerful Shia parties allied with Tehran and as a champion of the poor.

He backed in the election the Saeroon list composed of his followers, the Communist Party, and other secular candidates.

Amiri, a fluent Farsi speaker, is Iran’s closest ally in Iraq, having spent two years in exile there during the era of Saddam Hussein.

The Fatih alliance he led in the election was composed of political groups tied to Iran-backed Shia militias who helped government forces dislodge Islamic State militants from the third of Iraq they seized four years ago.

“Fatih and Saeroon announce forming the nucleus of the largest bloc and call on all winning blocs to participate in this alliance under a government programme agreed upon by all that is suitable to face the challenges, crises, and problems facing Iraq,” a Fatih spokesman said in a statement.

Election woes

The alliance, which together has 101 seats, 64 short of the majority needed to form a government, came hours after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who’s own bloc came third, urged politicians to keep negotiating over government formation despite an impending nationwide manual recount of votes.

Abadi may yet secure a second term as a compromise candidate if he joins his blocs with Sadr and Amiri and manages to win their backing.

Parliament mandated the recount after Abadi said a government report showed there were serious violations.

A few days later a storage site housing half of Baghdad’s ballot boxes caught fire, raising tensions and prompting some to call for the election to be repeated.

Abadi said he opposed a repeat and warned that anyone who tried to sabotage the political process would be punished.

“The matter is exclusively in the hands of the judiciary, not politicians. The government and parliament don’t have the power to cancel the election,” Abadi said of a repeat.

Abadi’s government report had recommended a recount of 5 percent of votes but the outgoing parliament, in which over half of lawmakers including the speaker lost their seats, instead voted for a nationwide one.

Abadi called the fire a deliberate act and said the attorney general would bring charges against those who are trying to undermine the political process.

An Iraqi court ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site. Three of them were policemen and one an employee of the elections commission.

Many of Iraq’s longtime political figures — seemingly irremovable since Saddam’s fall — were pushed out of their seats by new faces.

Threat of violence

Abadi said a preliminary report had provided evidence of gasoline at multiple areas inside the storage site. It also showed that security cameras had been disabled and no locks had been broken, implying it was carried out by someone with access to the storage site.

Iraqi authorities said the ballot boxes had been rescued but the fire has fuelled fears of violence.

Sadr has warned that certain parties are trying to drag Iraq into a civil war, adding that he would not participate in one.

Abadi thanked Sadr for a disarmament initiative he floated after a weapons cache at his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City exploded, killing 18 people, and said he hoped the cleric would stick to it.

“I welcome Sayed Moqtada’s announcement that his followers commit to not having weapons outside the framework of the state. We consider this good,” he said, adding that those responsible for the explosion would be brought to justice.

“What happened in Sadr City is very regrettable, it is a crime. Those responsible will receive their just punishment.”

Sadr, who ordered his own separate investigation into the incident, said he had identified the culprit who was now on the run and that he would be brought to justice.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)