By John Lee.

Moqtada al-Sadr has reportedly retained his lead in Iraq’s parliamentary election following a full recount.

According to Xinhua, the results showed no change in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and changes in four provinces involving five seat-winners within their own coalitions.

The recount did not alter the initial results significantly, with Sadr keeping his total of 54 seats.

(Sources: Reuters, Xinhua)

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

Negotiations are still under way to form a governing coalition in Iraq. No party won a majority during May’s national election, and the result is not yet confirmed, because a manual recount was called over allegations of vote rigging.

The parties trying to lead Iraq have major differences in their attitudes towards the United States and Iran.

But the big winner in Iraq’s contested election is expected to be Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who confidently expects his party to lead the next government once the revised result has been confirmed by the country’s Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, protests, which began in the oil-rich southern city of Basra in early July, have spread to eight Iraqi provinces, leading al-Sadr to call on all the winning lists of Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary election to suspend government formation talks until the demands of protesters are met.

Al Jazeera‘s Imran Khan reports from Baghdad:

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 Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

In a bold move, Iraq’s Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spoke in favor of the return of the Jews who were evicted from the country half a century ago. Sadr responded to a question posed by one of his followers June 2 on whether Iraqi Jews have a right to return after having been forcibly displaced due to previous Iraqi policies, noting that they used to own properties and were part of the Iraqi community.

He said, “If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” His answer was taken as tantamount to a religious edict, or fatwa.

The response has won him even more popularity and admiration for his policies and unexpected moves. His bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliament seats after allying with the Communist Party in an unprecedented move. This opening to ethnic and religious diversity reflects a shift in the personality of a Shiite religious and political figure known for being rebellious and defiant over the past 15 years.

However, an overview of Sadr’s previous positions reveals that this positive attitude toward Iraq’s Jews is not really new. In an interview with journalist Sarmad al-Tai in 2013, Sadr said he “welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims.”

Diyaa al-Asadi, a leader in the Sadrist movement, told Al-Monitor that while his movement criticizes the founding of the State of Israel for usurping the historical lands of Palestine, it distinguishes between Zionism as a secular political movement and Iraqi Jews as a religious minority rooted in Iraq.

Sadr, whose policy of openness to religious diversity is part of his comprehensive program to ease the sectarian and religious polarization of Iraqi politics, calls for the protection of Iraqi Jews and for granting them all their citizenship rights.

Tai, the reporter who interviewed Sadr in 2013, told Al-Monitor that by touching on the return of Iraqi Jews, Sadr has broken the silence on a sensitive issue that no other political or religious Iraqi leader has dared raise since the exodus of Jews in 1950-1951.

Sadr’s stance has sent a sigh of relief to the Jewish community outside of Iraq. Edwin Shukr [Shuker], a leader in the British Jewish community and personal envoy of the president of the European Jewish Congress, considers Sadr’s initiative a milestone and expressed his willingness to meet with Sadr and thank him on behalf of the Jewish community.

Sadr’s positivity toward a sect that has been neglected for more than half a century represents a real revolution that could change the perspective of large segments of Iraqi society.

Professor Ronen Zaidel, a specialist on Iraqi affairs at the University of Haifa, takes particular interest in Sadr’s policies. He believes that the fact that Sadr linked the return of Jews to their loyalty to Iraq as a conditional openness extended only to those holding non-Israeli passports.

However, he expressed cautious optimism that this could be just a first step to start a dialogue with the representatives of Iraq’s expatriate Jews. He does not expect that Sadr’s position will upend the Iraqi policy on all issues related to the future of the Jewish community in Iraq.

“The Iraqi authorities may permit members of the Jewish community to visit Jewish holy sites and shrines without granting them further rights or restoring their Iraqi citizenship,” he said.

Iraq is home to several Jewish holy shrines, including that of the Prophet Ezekiel (Al-Kifil in Babylon), Ezra HaSofer (Al-Azir in Maysan), the Prophet Daniel (near the castle of Kirkuk), the Prophet Jonah (in Mosul, destroyed by the Islamic State) and the Prophet Nahum (in the village of Alqosh).

Shukr hopes that “the openness of Sadr will be the start of public interest in preserving the holy Jewish places, which are common symbols of the Abrahamic religious heritage within Iraq and would pave the way for the rebuilding of ties between the new generations that are freed from the chains of hatred and fears of conflict.”

Iraq’s 2005 constitution did not recognize Judaism as one of the officially recognized religions such as Islam, Christianity, Mandean and Yazidi (Article 2.2).

A 1982 law that defined the officially recognized religious communities in Iraq included the Jewish community among the official religions but under the name “Mossawi,” or “follower of Moses.” The term “Israeli community” had been used in previous legislation and was changed to avoid mention of Israel for fear it could be interpreted as official recognition of the state.

The new Iraqi Nationality Law of 2006 also reinstated Iraqi citizenship for those who had lost it as a result of political, sectarian or racial decisions. A few minorities among Saddam Hussein’s opponents, including the Feyli (Lurs), benefited from the law, but Jews were excluded.

By John Lee.

Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri have reportedly announced an alliance between their political blocs.

The groups who won first and second places respectively in last month’s parliamentary election.

While Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance is opposed to Iranian involvement in Iraq, Amiri’s Fatah (Conquest) Coalition is head of an Iranian-backed militia.

At a joint press conference in Najaf, Sadr said “our meeting was a very positive one, we met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people. Our new alliance is a nationalist one.

(Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, Moqtada al-Sadr website)

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)

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.

Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric presents his political successor

In a meeting with the ministers of defense and interior in Muqtada al-Sadr’s Najaf office May 3, Sadr’s nephew Ahmed al-Sadr stood directly behind his uncle in what was taken as the younger Sadr’s introduction as the second-highest authority of the Sadrist movement after Muqtada al-Sadr himself.

A few weeks ago, Ahmed al-Sadr appeared on the Iraqi scene as the head of the Sadrist movement’s reform committee, introducing its political agendas and plans for the post-Islamic State period.

The Sadrist movement presented its strategies at the end of April to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masum, parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and former President Jalal Talabani.

The Sadrist movement has long been closely associated with the civil movement, having forged an alliance at the start of the demonstrations calling for reform that broke out in 2015.

Ahmed al-Sadr is the son of Muqtada al-Sadr’s brother Mustafa al-Sadr. Ahmed al-Sadr was born in Najaf in 1986 but did not receive a religious education in traditional Shiite schools. Instead he was guided and supported by his uncle, who sent him to Lebanon to major in political science at Beirut University, where he completed a master’s degree.

Ahmed al-Sadr returned to Iraq and made public appearances a few days after Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement that he had received death threats March 24 from what he called the “trinity parties,” people involved with the US occupation, terrorism and corruption. He subsequently had to delegate powers to his aides.

As a result, Ahmed al-Sadr was appointed to head the recently formed committee to administer the Sadrist initiatives for political reform and the post-liberation period. He began with meeting with several Iraqi leaders.

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

On Feb. 28, hundreds of pro-Sadrist university students in Kut attacked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s procession with stones and water bottles. Abadi’s security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at the protesters, injuring three.

Subsequently, Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr (pictured) apologized to Abadi for the breaches. Though he called on his followers to stop the protests in Kut until further notice, he accused former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being behind the breaches to try to distort the Sadrist movement’s image.

The incident reflects the intense competition among Iraq’s Shiite leaders. There are currently three main Shiite figures competing for power: head of the Islamic Supreme Council Ammar al-Hakim, head of the State of Law Coalition Maliki, and Sadr himself. Each has his own plan to remain in power and remove the others or limit their influence.

On Feb. 20, Sadr announced a 29-point initiativeInitial Solutions — his vision for the future of Iraq once the Islamic State (IS) is forced out. Holding local primary elections was among the points. Sadr’s keenness on holding elections is likely to further deepen the Shiite split as the leaders fight for a majority position.

About a month ago, the Sadrist movement started calling for electoral reforms, seeking to reduce Maliki’s strong chances of winning the election as long as no radical changes are made to the electoral law and commission.