Sadr attempts political barter with Kadhimi ahead of Iraq’s elections

Kadhimi represents an ideal option for the Sadrists, especially if they can achieve an electoral victory in the upcoming polls.
Tuesday 27/04/2021
Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, February 10, 2021. (AFP)
Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, February 10, 2021. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has pledged to support Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi for a second term, if the latter decides not to run a party of his own in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

An Iraqi political source familiar with the matter revealed to The Arab Weekly the existence of electoral understandings between Kadhimi and Sadr. According to these , the source said, the Sadrist movement will support the current prime minister  to remain at the head of the government in exchange for Kadhimi’s commitment not to form a party or a bloc and not to enter the parliamentary elections that are expected to take place this October.

The source confirmed to The Arab Weekly that these understandings are supported by Shia political forces represented by the former premier Haider al-Abadi and the head of the Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim, as well as by Sunni forces represented by parliamentary speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi and Kurdish groups led by  the former president of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani.

Kifah Mahmoud, the media adviser to the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, confirmed that Kadhimi is still quite popular as a political figure, noting the premier’s serious efforts towards resolving the country’s differences with the Kurdistan region. Mahmoud also stressed  the good personal relations Kadhimi has with Barzani and the other Kurdish political leaders.

He added that Kadhimi is viewed as the closest Iraqi politician to the Kurdish leadership.

Kadhimi, Mahmoud explained, had enjoyed Kurdish support ever since he took office as prime minister in May 2020.

This means that Kadhimi will probably get Sadrist and Kurdish support for a second term, Barzani’s media adviser said, noting the progress of understandings between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Sadrist movement.

This comes at a time when Sadr is warning of attempts by some parties to weaken security in Iraq with the aim of delaying or cancelling the general parliamentary election.

“There are parties who want to weaken security in Iraq for many reasons, the most important of which is delaying or cancelling elections.” said Sadr in a tweet on his personal account. “To achieve this, these parties are tasking unruly militias with mounting attacks against the occupying forces, hoping to cancel their withdrawal. The presence of occupying forces is, in fact, the only excuse for the militias to remain active,” .

Political forces are betting on Kadhimi as the safest option in order to control the street and prevent the outbreak of new protests, especially in the light of the progress of the anti-corruption campaign that has targeted graft involving a number of  political figures.

An Iraqi parliamentary source said, “If Muqtada Sadr changed his position from initially wanting a Sadrist as the next PM to supporting Kadhimi for a second term, then this is only some sort of practical understanding of the reality on the ground.”

Kadhimi represents an ideal option for the Sadrists, especially if they can achieve an electoral victory in the upcoming polls.

However, Iraqi academic and political analyst Rahim al-Kaabi warned, “The road is still long for Kadhimi to dispel Iran’s fears and doubts about his person. Iran’s trust is the most crucial factor that can decide the fortunes of a candidate to the position of Iraq’s Prime Minister.”

Kaabi told The Arab Weekly that Kadhimi needs more than “cross-quota alliances” to secure a second term.

Fierce competition

Political observers agree that the upcoming elections, if held on time, will witness a fierce competition between state forces and non-state actors, particularly Iranian militias.

The pro-Iranian agents are aware that it is difficult to win the battle for the position of the next prime minister, but they are working hard to prevent any party from getting the required majority to name the next premier by itself.

Though Sadr is the spiritual father of all armed militias, his problematic relationship with Tehran has put him in the complex position of no war and no peace with Iran, a position that can be changed at any time.

Iraqi political forces and parties believe that Sadr, not the state, is the one who is capable of standing up to non-state actors. The cost of such a scenario will be the replacement of currently uncontrolled weapons with a spread of less uncontrolled weapons.

Two Shia camps are set to emerge ahead of and during the upcoming election. The first is what can be called the national Shia forces, the forces of moderation, or as some call them “the state forces”. These include Kadhimi, Abadi and Hakim, as well as Sadr, if he continues his current approach and does not make a U-turn as he has done before.

The second Shia camp includes militia groups that have political ambitions, such as the Badr Organisation led by Hadi al-Amiri and the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq led by Qais Khazali. The second camp also includes the Islamic Dawa Party headed by Nuri al-Maliki, and parties known as “loyalists” because of their absolute loyalty to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, or other non-state actors.

Iraq’s old political figures, experts say, know that they will not be able to control the scene anymore, especially after their sectarian strategies and tactics have become ineffective when it comes to mobilising voters. This will push part of the political class to declare its support for Kadhimi in his attempt to gain the public’s confidence and change in the political balance within the House of Representatives.

Kaabi, however, believes that the political class in Iraq is well aware that the elections are nothing but “a show” to give substance to their political projects, and finalise their already-settled deals.

“Iran, which is ecstatic with its nuclear negotiations with the international community, wants to reposition itself in Iraq, and Kadhimi will not be its ideal option, even if he is the godfather of Tehran’s normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia – a normalisation that will top the agenda of Iran’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Baghdad,” Kaabi said.

“Tehran has its allies and means of pressure inside Iraq and this will make Washington and the democrats, who are restless about the Iraqi file, lose patience,” he added.