Last-minute deals sought in Iraq election alliances

News of the negotiations sur­prised many Iraqis as Abadi is seen as a political rival to PMF leaders and both sides generally appealed to different electoral bases.
January 14, 2018
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi greets people during an Iraqi military parade in Baghdad, last December

London - Top Iraqi politicians, includ­ing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, are engaged in last-minute negotiations to form alliances ahead of the country’s elections, even after registering their electoral coalitions.

All alliances that will take part in the country’s parliamentary and lo­cal elections scheduled for May 12 registered their lists by the January 11 deadline but the door is reported­ly open for a few days for two elec­toral coalitions to merge into one list, should they agree to do so.

The two lists involved in the ne­gotiations are al-Nasr (Victory) coa­lition, which is led by Abadi and includes cross-sectarian and re­formist candidates as well as former Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, and al-Fatih (Conquest) coalition, which is led by Badr Organisation Secretary-General Hadi al-Amiri and includes many Iran-backed Shia militia leaders who were part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

News of the negotiations sur­prised many Iraqis as Abadi is seen as a political rival to PMF leaders and both sides generally appealed to different electoral bases. Iraqi Vice- President Nuri al-Maliki, who leads the State of Law coalition and is a longtime favourite of Iran, is consid­ered ideologically closer to al-Fatih coalition than Abadi.

Observers said Abadi’s bid to form an alliance with al-Fatih coalition was an attempt to pre-empt Maliki — a more serious competitor to the prime minister — from reaching out to the list of former militia leaders.

Others doubt that an alliance be­tween Abadi and al-Fatih coalition would be formed in the coming days, as the poor international repu­tation of the militia leaders could cause diplomatic headaches for the prime minister.

In addition to the Badr Organisa­tion and the Islamic Supreme Coun­cil of Iraq, al-Fatih coalition includes leaders from Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Iraqi Hezbollah, al-Nujaba, Imam Ali Bri­gades and other militias.

Both Abadi and Maliki belong to the Dawa Party. Abadi sought to include Dawa on his list but the at­tempt was turned down by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Com­mission (IHEC), as the party was reg­istered in Maliki’s list. Local media reported that Dawa members were engaged in mediation between Ab­adi and Maliki to preserve the unity of the party.

“Abadi has consistently criticised his predecessor in recent speeches, often reminding the audience of those who lost a third of Iraq’s ter­ritory to ISIS and left the state cof­fers empty,” wrote Harith Hasan al-Qarawee on the website of the At­lantic Council, a US think-tank.

“Although less vocal than in pre­vious years, Maliki does not hide his goal to displace Abadi as a top priority. He recently adopted a more moderate line towards relations with Kurdistan, hoping to sway some Kurdish parties to his favour after the election,” Qarawee added.

Other Shia-majority coalitions registered with the IHEC include Istiqama (Upright), led by influ­ential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and al-Hikma (Wisdom), led by Ammar al-Hakim. Sadr and Hakim are pre­senting their lists as “nationalist” coalitions. Sadr went as far as to in­clude the Iraqi Communist Party in his coalition list.

Two electoral lists are competing for mainly Sunni voters, the most notable of which is al-Wataniya (National) coalition, which is led by Vice-President Ayad Allawi, and in­cludes parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Juburi and former Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, in addi­tion to several Sunni figures. The second pro-Sunni coalition is led by Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi and includes business mogul Khamis Khanjar.

In northern Iraq, a new Kurdish coalition called Nishtiman (Home­land) has been formed and is led by Barham Saleh, leader of Coalition for Democracy and Justice. The Ni­shtiman coalition, which will run in Kirkuk and other disputed areas, includes the Gorran (Change) Move­ment and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal).

The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan will reportedly have a united front to deal with Baghdad. They will also have a united list competing against the Nishtiman and other coalitions in the disputed areas.

Regardless if a deal between Ab­adi and al-Fatih coalition is made, debate between coalitions could in­volve horse trading in order to form a ruling alliance once May’s election results are out.

Prior to negotiations with al- Fatih, it was thought that Abadi was more likely to form an alliance with Sadr, Hakim and prominent secular and Sunni figures.

It remains unclear if the next elec­tions would be less influenced by sectarian and ethnic loyalties than the previous ones.