Last-minute deals sought in Iraq election alliances
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.