By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi suspended Electricity Minister Qassim al-Fahdawi (pictured) on Sunday for what he described as the “poor performance of the sector“.

Protests against unemployment and poor public services turned violent earlier this month, with several protesters killed.

Many areas of Iraq are struggling to cope with insufficient electricity supply during the annual heatwave.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi has directed an additional 800 billion dinars ($669 million) to Iraq’s housing fund.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office, the directive “came in the interest of providing housing loans to citizens, which is estimated at about 25 thousand new housing loan, which in turn will create jobs for citizens and meet their basic needs“.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq may soon be Without a Government, as Clock Runs Out

The term of Iraq’s current parliament ends June 30, but a mandated manual recount of votes cast in the May 12 election hasn’t even begun, and disputes are deepening among some political blocs. This could create a constitutional vacuum, which would worsen an already-bad situation.

Parliament was slated to meet June 27 to vote on a bill to extend its term until the Federal Supreme Court confirms the election results. The court, however, was proactive and issued a decision June 26 rejecting an extension, citing the constitutional mandate that parliament serves four calendar years. The current parliament first convened July 1, 2014.

The court’s decision stated that any legislation passed after July 1 will be unconstitutional and “its consequences shall be null and void.”

The ruling sparked mixed reactions among Iraq’s political forces. Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri and some political parties had supported the extension, and warned of a possible constitutional vacuum. Jabouri failed to secure a seat during the election.

Meanwhile, the winning political blocs, including the Sairoon Alliance headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, which won the largest number of parliament seats, condemned the idea of extending parliament’s term. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member Hoshyar Zebari called the proposed extension “a new trick.” Jamal al-Karbouli, head of the Iraq is Our Identity party, said it was an attempted “political coup.”

To speed up the recount process, the Federal Supreme Court decided the review will include only votes from areas where results were contested, whether within Iraq or abroad. The court also approved parliament’s vote to dismiss some senior members of the Independent High Electoral Commission and replace them with judges. Adel al-Nouri, the commission’s head, said the dismissed members were accused of election tampering.

After a storage unit containing ballot boxes was set on fire in early June, protection measures were tightened at stations where ballots are stored. More than 5,000 members of the police, army and counterterrorism forces have been deployed to 21 such stations across the country.

“All managers of polling stations and offices where there have been complaints are instructed to transfer the ballot boxes and the electronic verification devices to designated locations in Baghdad,” Electoral Commission spokesman Laith Hamza said in a statement.

“The recount will take place in the presence of representatives of the United Nations, political blocs, as well as representatives of the candidates,” he added.

Skeptics of the election results are trying to get more monitors involved in supervising the recount. Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, who heads the National Coalition, called on the Arab League and judiciary to participate in monitoring.

As the controversy over the vote results escalates, political parties are still discussing how to form a majority bloc that will be entrusted to choose the next Cabinet.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, during a June 23 visit to Najaf where he met with Sadr, announced an alliance between his al-Nasr bloc and Sadr’s Sairoon.

In a joint press conference with Abadi, Sadr said, “The alliance between the two sides will lead to formation of a cross-sectarian, technocratic government representing all the Iraqi people.”

He added, “The agreement includes supporting the army, placing all arms and weapons under the control of the state, developing a program to reform the judiciary, activating the role of the general prosecutor to continue combating corruption and holding accountable those accused of corruption,” Sadr added.

He also stressed that foreign forces in Iraq should commit “to not interfere in Iraqi domestic affairs.”

Sadr forged some alliances earlier this month, first with the National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim and Allawi’s National Coalition, followed by another alliance with the Fatah bloc led by Hadi al-Amiri, which comprises several Popular Mobilization Units factions and is close to Iran.

He didn’t touch on his previous alliances in the latest announcement with Abadi. This raises the question, is he looking for the best alliance partners for the future government, only to renege on alliances with other forces? Or is he looking for a comprehensive alliance that will bring together the various forces under his electoral list?

Abadi, who would like to keep his position as prime minister, said his alliance with Sadr doesn’t conflict with the latter’s declared alliances and doesn’t mean Sadr is “against other coalitions.” It appears Sadr doesn’t oppose forming a comprehensive alliance, as long as the different blocs come under his list, which would lead the Cabinet selection.

As things stand now, it seems that selecting a Cabinet using a comprehensive coalition is a possible option. This would happen shortly after the commission finishes recounting the votes and the federal court confirms the official results. This would spare the country a lengthy constitutional vacuum or an extension of parliament’s term.

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

On June 21, Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ruled that parliament’s decision to cancel the votes of Iraqis living abroad, displaced people and members of the peshmerga forces was unconstitutional. The results of the elections are expected to remain as they are, and the formation of the next government is supposed to pick up speed in light of this recent judicial ruling.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the leader of al-Nasr coalition, expressed his intent to host the leaders of the winning blocs before the end of this month to discuss the paths of forming the next government and outline the next phase.

“We launched a national initiative before Eid al-Fitr [June 15] for a broad national meeting that includes all political blocs to agree on the state administration programs, not just the government,” he said at a press conference on June 20.

He explained that the national consensus aims to speed up the proper formation of state institutions after the elections, noting, “Political blocs welcomed our national meeting initiative with arms wide open.”

Abadi called on “political blocs to cooperate to form an operation room, or as we call it, a preparatory committee to lay the foundations of any political agreement to set the next government program.”

Spokesman for al-Nasr coalition Hussein al-Adli told Al-Monitor, “We called on all bloc leaders who won in the recent elections to meet before the end of this month so we can all agree on the process of forming the government and general frameworks regarding state affairs, so as to avoid a constitutional vacuum.”

He added, “Al-Nasr coalition has not yet identified its direction when it comes to [potential] alliances, nor do we believe that the largest bloc, which is constitutionally mandated to form a government, has been formed yet.”

Adli pointed out that “Abadi would rather hold discussions with all blocs directly and collectively and draw out the upcoming phase, based on results of the elections.”

On June 12, Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement and the Sairoon Alliance that won 54 seats in the recent elections, announced that it was allying with Fatah, a bloc led by Hadi al-Amiri that won 47 seats. This new alliance aims to form the largest parliamentary bloc.

According to a source from al-Hikma bloc, which secured 19 seats and is led by Ammar al-Hakim, the Shiite blocs have yet to confirm that they will attend Abadi’s national meeting.

The source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Abadi tried to convince the Shiite blocs to attend, but they are not having it. They do not see why there needs to be a meeting before naming the new prime minister during parliament’s first session to discuss the next government.”

The source said, “Abadi will fail to hold this meeting unless he forms an alliance able to compete against the Fatah-Sairoon alliance.”

The Shiite lists believe that Abadi is trying to get around the idea of “the largest blocs,” after failing to ally with Sadr and Amiri. He has not yet decided whether he is staying or withdrawing from al-Dawa party, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of the State Law Coalition, with 25 seats.

Meanwhile, Maliki said he would participate only “if all forces attend the meeting and everyone commits to hard work to reach solutions to the serious crises plaguing the country.” However, a statement published by Maliki’s press office on June 16 announced that he will be attending.

The Sairoon Alliance decided to only attend if “Abadi sends a written invitation, not only calls on political blocs though the media.”

On the other hand, Kurdish and Sunni forces were pleased with Abadi’s initiative and confirmed their attendance.

On June 15, the National Forces Alliance, which includes the majority of Sunni blocs in parliament, issued a statement, saying, “We welcome Abadi’s initiative and we believe this is a step in the right direction toward an all-embracing national project.”

Leader of the Iraqi Decision Alliance, Ahmed al-Massari, told Al-Monitor that his alliance “supports dialogue between the winning lists for the purpose of solving the country’s many crises,” noting that his bloc “believes Abadi’s initiative is not limited to discussing the formation of the largest bloc, but also aims at setting a national program of action, regardless of sectarian differences.”

The coming days will reveal to what extent Abadi’s initiative can contribute to overcoming differences and discussing the future of the country while steering clear from the “largest bloc” project. This initiative is no more than a political “tactic” through which Abadi is trying to include Sunni and Kurdish blocs in the process of choosing the new prime minister.

This way, he might be able to make up for his inability to find a good parliamentary majority that guarantees him a second term. So far, no other Shiite alliance has as many members as the Sadr-Amiri alliance.

The broad acclaim Abadi’s initiative received among Kurdish and Sunni blocs indicates their desire to have a new prime minister, agreed upon by all forces instead of one imposed by the largest bloc. At the same time, the Kurdish and Sunni blocs do not necessarily want rapprochement with a Shiite bloc.

The true advantage of holding Abadi’s meeting is to spare the country from having a constitutional vacuum, hold the new parliament’s first session early next month and put an end to Abadi’s own “caretaker” government.

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

After the Sairoon (On the Move) Alliance emerged victorious in the May 12 Iraqi elections, its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, has been seeking meetings with the leaders of the other top-vote-getting alliances to discuss the possibility of forming the largest bloc in the new parliament and ultimately form the new Cabinet.

At a May 19 joint press conference after talks with Sadr, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose Al-Nasr (Victory) Alliance came in third, said, “During our meeting, we agreed to work together and with other parties to expedite the process of forming a new Iraqi government.”

A few days later, on May 22, Al-Nasr spokesman Hussein al-Adeli said Abadi had reached an agreement with Sadr on a map for forming a new government. Abadi himself, in his weekly press conference the same day, said his coalition was close to reaching an understanding with the Sairoon Alliance “to form a strong technocratic government.”

In a May 20 meeting with Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the second-place Fatah Alliance, consisting of the political wings of the pro-Iran militias of the Popular Mobilization Units, Sadr had said, “The process of government formation must be a national decision, and importantly, must include the participation of all the winning blocs along a national path.”

Sadr appeared to select the phrasing “national decision” and “national path” especially for Amiri, who had days earlier met in Baghdad with Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, in an attempt to form a pro-Iranian parliamentary bloc.

Sadr also held talks with Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Hikma Alliance, on May 21 and spoke of the importance of forming the upcoming government in a way that ensures “fixing the path of the political process to suit the aspirations of the Iraqi people who reject sectarianism and corruption.”

Sadr also met May 21 with Iyad al-Allawi, leader of the predominantly Sunni Al-Wataniyah Alliance, and two days earlier had received a letter from Kosrat Rasoul Ali, first deputy for the secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in line with discussions on potential alliances requiring Sunni and Kurdish participation alongside the Shiite majority to form a government.

After failing to assemble a parliamentary bloc under Iranian auspices consisting of the four largest Shiite lists — the State of Law Coalition and the Al-Nasr, Hikma and Fatah Alliances — Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi attempted to lure Sadr to his side to prevent the formation of an anti-Iran government. Masjedi told Iran’s Al-Alam TV May 21, “Iran has constructive relations with all parties, blocs and coalitions that won the majority of parliamentary seats in the fourth elections.”

Masjedi also denied rumors of a dispute between the Iranian leadership and Sadr, saying, “Iran’s relations with Sadr are historical and deep-seated. The country had close relations with the martyrs Mohammed Baqr and Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr [Muqtada’s uncle and father, respectively].” Masjedi added, “Iranian officials’ relations with Sadr are friendly and brotherly, and many of them, including Soleimani, appreciate Sadr greatly.”

In fact, Sadr’s father and Iranian officials were not friendly at all. His representative in Iran, Jaafar al-Sadr, son of Mohammad Baqr, was arrested and his office shuttered in Qom in 1998. In addition, everything indicates that relations between Muqtada and Iran have gone downhill as well in recent years.

Sadr had made several statements critical of Iranian interference in Iraqi decision-making, and his alliance competed against the pro-Iran lists — Al-Fatah and the State of Law Coalition — in the elections. In the preceding years, Sadr’s supporters chanted slogans against Iran at protests calling for reform. Sadr, unlike his rivals Maliki and Amiri, has not met with Soleimani in recent years.

Sadr greeted a group of ambassadors from neighboring countries May 19 after his list’s victory was confirmed. In attendance were the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria. Official Iranian websites, including Al-Alam’s, criticized Sadr’s relations with Saudi Arabia and charged that Riyadh had been behind Iran’s exclusion from the meeting.

Sadr insists that the largest parliamentary bloc include all Iraqi components, which would be unprecedented if successful. The largest parliamentary bloc has always consisted solely of Shiite parties, which then negotiated with Kurdish and Sunni blocs over forming the government.

On May 21, Sadr tweeted, “I am Muqtada. I am Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Saebean, Yazidi, Islamist, civil, Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkmen, Chaldean and Shabak. I am Iraqi. Do not expect me to side with any sect against the other to renew enmities and lead to our demise. We are headed toward a comprehensive Iraqi alliance.”

Al-Hayat newspaper on May 21 cited Iraqi sources close to Sadr discussing efforts to bring together Abadi, Allawi, Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani and Sunni Al-Qarar Alliance leader Khamis al-Khanjar to explore forming the leading parliamentary bloc with all their parties’ participation. If Sadr succeeds, Iraq might overcome sectarian quotas in forming a government, and Iranian influence would dwindle with its political allies, Al-Fatah and the State of Law Coalition, excluded from the bloc.

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The vote dealt a blow to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose Nasr alliance is trailing in third place.

But with no group winning a majority, he could still be a major player.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford examines Abadi’s time in office:

By John Lee.

The alliance headed by former Shia militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr has won the parliamentary election.

But according to BBC News, Sadr cannot become prime minister as he did not stand as a candidate.

He is, however, expected to play a key role in forming the new government. Sadr is strongly opposed to Iranian and US involvement in the country.

The party of outgoing PM Haider al-Abadi was pushed into third place, behind a pro-Iranian alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri.

More here and here.

(Source: BBC, Reuters)

By John Lee.

According to media reports, the Nasr (Victory) Alliance led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is trailing in third place in the Iraqi general elections.

With more than half of votes counted, Saeroun (Marching Towards Reform) list, comprising Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Istiqama (Integrity) party and six mostly secular groups, is in the lead, says BBC News.

This is followed by the Fatah (Conquest) bloc, linked to Iranian-backed Shia paramilitaries who fought the Islamic State (IS) group.

Turnout was low, at just 44.5 percent.

More details here.

(Source: BBC News)

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has arrived in Tokyo for discussions with major Japanese industry and government.

He met the CEO of Sumitomo Corporation, Kuniharu Nakamura to discuss future projects in Iraq, including the establishment of factories for car manufacturing in Iraq and providing after-sales services.

He also met Hiroyuki Ishige, Chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), who said that Japanese companies are keen to invest in Iraq, adding that his organization wants to expand its office in Iraq.

The rehabilitation of the Haritha power plant in Basra was discussed with the President and CEO of Mitsubishi Corporation, Takehiko Kakiuchi, while Ichiro Kashitani, President and CEO of Toyota Tsusho Group, discussed supplying fixed and mobile power stations.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi cabinet has reportedly approved a plan to improve relations with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states.

In a news conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (pictured) recalled that the GCC leaders had adopted a resolution in their last meeting on expanding strategic cooperation with Iraq, which they considered a “main partner“.

(Source: MENAFN, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA))