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))

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised to crack down on corruption, and says laws will protect nervous foreign investors.

He told CNBC:

We are laying down all the legal framework … I think the worry is corruption, number one, which is hiding behind red tape and bureaucracy. We have established a higher committee which is headed by the prime minister and it has a follow up team to make sure to remove blocks as they are there because of the bureaucracy.

“I think this will be a huge bonus for companies; sometimes they are pressed to pay bribes or something like that. We want to keep away from this, we want every dollar which goes into investment or donation to serve the people, not to go to the pockets of corrupt people.

Appearing confident despite the challenges ahead, he added:

“I think now that the process of engaging investors in Iraq, I am sure in the next few months will be the foundation of this. We’ve already appointed a committee. Next month is going to be a meeting with major investors to follow up … And I hope that after the election they’ll immediately start.”

See the full CNBC interview here.

(Source: CNBC)

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation in the Kurdistan Region reiterated that the Ministry has not received any formal approval from Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to lift the ban on international flights from the airports in the region.

Asked whether Baghdad was trying to delay resolving the issue with Erbil, Omed Mohammed said that he has no knowledge why the Federal government has not lifted the ban on the airports after the region had shown commitment to all of the conditions introduced by Iraq.

According to the Kurdish official, the Kurdish Regional Government has already accepted all of the conditions made by the Federal government, but there was no sign from Baghdad’s side to end the punitive measures imposed on the region.

(Source: GardaWorld)

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said Iraq needs up to $100 billion to fix crumbling infrastructure, according to a report from Reuters.

Calling on foreign investors to help it rebuild the country following the defeat of the Islamic State group (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, he told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland:

“It’s a huge amount of money. We know we cannot provide it through our own budget.”

Iraq has just announced a list of 157 large- and medium-sized projects to be presented during the Kuwait International Conference for Iraq Reconstruction, to be held in Kuwait from 12th to 14th February.

(Source: Reuters)

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

Rivals may Team Up to Defeat Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi

Two former adversaries appear to be warming up to each other to collaborate in Iraq’s presidential and parliamentary elections set for May — possibly at the expense of the nation’s top politician.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now faces a potential rapprochement between two of his rivals: Vice President Nouri al-Maliki and Massoud Barzani. Maliki is the current leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, and Barzani is head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and former president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

No one actually expected a rapprochement between Maliki and Barzani. However, their need to achieve their targets in the upcoming elections and to tame Abadi pushed both rivals to bridge the gap that opened between them in 2010 and lasted through 2017.

The last time Maliki and Barzani agreed on anything was when all political coalitions decided to renew Maliki’s four-year term as prime minister in 2010.

On Dec. 23, during an interview with Kurdish media outlet Rudaw (which is funded by Barzani’s nephew), Maliki said, “Punishing Kurdish people in order to get more votes in elections is shameful, unethical, non-patriotic and illegitimate.” He was referring to the Abadi government’s continued refusal to pay wages to the employees of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. It was actually Maliki who introduced the pay sanction during his tenure as prime minister over an oil dispute.

Barzani’s KDP has changed its discourse toward Maliki since the latter made that statement. Maliki is no longer blamed for the “starvation” of Kurdish people or for working against the KRG. Statements describing him as harsher on Kurds than Saddam Hussein — as Barzani said in August — are no longer heard. In fact, some KDP leaders are now saying that Maliki wants to resolve the conflict between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG in Erbil.

One of the deputies of the Dawa Party told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Maliki is discussing whether the rapprochement with the KDP would become an actual alliance and how such an alliance might affect the future of the Dawa Party’s candidates in leading the next government.