Kadhimi expected to make a move to boost political, electoral fortunes

Those who fear most paying the price of his political expansion are going to be the Shia parties.
Saturday 20/06/2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi delivers a speech in Baghdad, last May. (AFP)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi delivers a speech in Baghdad, last May. (AFP)

BAGHDAD –Shia political party circles in Iraq are anxiously watching Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s first steps to map out the next stage of his political future. This could mean creating a new party or forming a political bloc that would meet the demands of the popular protests and fulfill the expectations of the young people leading them.

Kadhimi has yet to declare his intentions to enter direct political action.

There were, however, conflicting reports about him establishing direct lines of communication with social activists and civil society currents to sound them about the possibility of launching a new political project which will compete in the upcoming elections.

Despite his extensive relations with Iraqi parties before and after 2003, Kadhimi cannot be said to be experienced politically, but his experience as intelligence chief between 2016 and 2020 must have allowed him to become familiar with the hidden aspects and intricacies of politics in his country.

This in addition to the large experience he gained during the same period through the many tasks and missions he undertook which in many ways were comparable to the functions of a minister of foreign affairs. As head of Iraqi intelligence services, Kadhimi was involved in reviving Iraq’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, and managing issues related to Iraqi-Turkish relations.

In Iraq, the position of prime minister carries with it a tremendous aura capable of giving the incumbent candidate an undeniable electoral advantage, especially if he or she possesses a charismatic personality and an impressive public presence.

These factors, in addition to the enormous financial resources the position opens up to its occupant on the electoral level, there are distinct chances of success for the Prime Minister within any electoral race in Iraq.

Most of the heads of government in Iraq after 2003 formed new parties or currents when they took office, or assumed the leadership position in their former parties and the currents that brought them to power. For example, Iyad Allawi formed an electoral list after his inauguration as prime minister in 2004, and Haider al-Abadi defected from the Dawa Party to lead an independent electoral project when he was prime minister in 2018.

But the champion of all in this political strategy remains former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who formed his own party, the State of Law Coalition, after being elected Prime Minister in 2006, and then went on to achieve impressive electoral results in 2009 and 2010. In 2014, when everyone thought that the voters would punish al-Maliki for letting Mosul fall in the hands of ISIS, and for the loss of about a third of the country’s territory to this new entity, the State of Law Coalition still achieved the first position in the elections and al-Maliki almost got his third term, had it not been for the intervention of the Supreme Shiite cleric Ali Sistani.

Kadhimi cannot really be expected to achieve any major breakthroughs in the Sunni and Kurdish electoral areas, without first making major inroads at the national level. So it is safe to say that those who fear most paying the price of his political expansion in the coming stage are going to be the Shia parties, currents and forces.

Parties and currents loyal to Tehran, such as the State of Law Coalition, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Badr Organisation, can be expected to be the ones to be mostly penalised by Kadhimi’s burgeoning political career, for the latter is best placed to become an extraordinary candidate most likely to succeed in attracting the disgruntled and uncommitted supporters of these movements because of the significant decline in Iran’s favourability in Iraq.

 

Other Shia blocs, like Moqtatda al-Sadr’s Saeruun bloc or al-Abadi’s Victory Coalition, may lose some of their followers to Kadhimi’s future electoral chances due to their poor and confused performances during this past stage.

Observers say that Kadhimi may reasonably count on creating a popular political movement that will group the currents fuelling the popular protests which have not abated since early October.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of this target audience is its resentment towards the parties affiliated with Iran and their policies that always subjugate Iraq’s interests to those of its neighbour to the East.

So, if this disgruntled audience really moves to back Kadhimi, the Shia political scene in Iraq may witness a radical change in the size and influence of the current active forces.

It is, however, premature for observers to talk about expectations regarding the size of popular participation in any upcoming polls, especially in light of the uncertainty surrounding the dates of the upcoming elections.

In fact, one of the top demands of the October demonstrators was and still is holding early elections. In such elections, these demonstrators are not about ready to forget that the pro-Iranian militias and parties have killed nearly 700 of them and wounded an additional 20,000.

Observers believe that this protest confrontation with the Iran-controlled authority during the mandate of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi could very well turn into a fierce electoral confrontation between the protesting public and Tehran’s allies, the results of which may be in the interest of the Kadhimi’s political project.

Iraqi media controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have recently been circulating news about a current taking shape in the protest arenas of Baghdad and Nasiriyah in the south, in favour of pro-Kadhimi party.

This type of fake news reveals the great fears inhabiting Iran’s followers inside Iraq, on the political and electoral levels, about their future in the coming stage.