Iraqi 5th Parliament Meets Fragmented Political Blocs
On January 9, 2022, the new Iraqi parliament met for the first time to elect its new speaker and its two deputies. Deep disarrays and differences between the political blocs reflected the fragmented future parliament. Following the announced results of the October 10, 2021 elections, which were early elections in response to the anti-government protests led by the Tishreen (October) protest movement, we witnessed two different types of negotiations taking place within Iraq’s political arena: a) negotiations between Iraq’s different traditional political forces, and b) the intra-group negotiations to agree on a representative for each of their shares. At this time, it is the latter that arguably delayed the governmental formation, as each group must come with an appointed candidate to their share of the high-profile positions, and that is a Shia Prime Minister, a Kurdish President, and a Sunni Parliamentary Speaker.
The Divided Shia House
The major obstacle to this governmental formation is the intra-Shia disagreement caused by the rift between the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Shia Coordination Framework (SCF), consisting of pro-Iran groups such as the State of the Law led by former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014), al-Fatah bloc led by paramilitary-figure-turned-into-politician Hadi al-Ameri, Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, and many other Iran-aligned groups.
The Sadrists (the electoral winner of 73 seats) have been trying to form a majority government with the Kurds and the Sunnis, which would exclude the SCF or force them to join without their most powerful member, Maliki, considering the major electoral defeat in seats this last election. The SCF proposes a consensus government that would include all of Iraq’s traditional political forces regardless of their electoral results.
The failed attempts by the Sadrists and SCF to come to an agreement have led both sides to try to persuade the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) on the one hand, and Mohamed al-Halboosi’s Taqadum and Khamis al-Khanjar’s Azam, on the other hand, to push for each of their plans to form a government.
The Early Sunni Consensus Bloc
Up to a point, the only clear outcome from any of the pre-opening session meetings is the Taqadum-Azam agreement despite reported competition between the both over the Speakership’s position. The agreement ended with the Sunni vote proposing al-Halboosi to be re-appointed as parliament speaker and Khanjar to lead the newly established parliamentary coalition between the two parties.
“The new Sunni alliance is reflecting a follow of the KDP-PUK footsteps in dealing with Baghdad. Moving forward, the Sunnis will unify their stance when approaching Baghdad as one force, and keep their differences in Ninewa, Salahuddin, Diyala, and Anbar, especially that there is a motivating regional factor behind their unity,” İRAM is exclusively told by Mustafa Saadoon, an Iraqi journalist and CEO of Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights.
The Kurdish Dilemma
The Kurdish alliance between KDP and PUK is, as usual, filled with differences and pending resolutions. However, PUK is still insistent on re-appointing President Barham Salih since KDP maintains the regional administration of the Kurdistan Region and many of the Kurds’ share in the central government’s ministries.
The only thing we are uncertain to expect from the Sunni and Kurdish blocs is when will they announce their preferred candidate amongst the intra-Shia rivalry between the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework?
Both have publicly expressed their willingness to witness a resolution coming out of the Shia bloc prior to any cross-sectarian involvement in order to prevent any damaged relations in the future. However, we also certainly know that the Kurds will not be interested in the growing political culture of the majority, instead of consensus, governments in Iraq’s federal cabinets as it threatens their chances in future governmental formation negotiations. For instance, due to PUK’s long-standing relationship with Iran and PUK’s Peshmerga’s bilateral cooperation with the Iran-aligned groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) on many occasions, it cannot publicly move against the SCF.
Whereas KDP, which faces more hostility from the PMF’s Iran-aligned groups on a regular basis, currently enjoys relatively stable diplomatic relations with various sides that are involved in the intra-Shia rift from a distance and close such as Tehran, SCF, and the Sadrists.
Therefore, Kurds have four main concerns regarding the current governmental formation:
1. Ensure the consensus governmental formations do not disappear from Iraq’s political culture
2. Not take sides in the intra-Shia rift and avoid damaging relationships with either side
3. Bilateral agreement on a candidate for Iraq’s Presidency
4. Build up a unified Kurdish approach to negotiate ministries and other high-level positions in the upcoming federal government
Mahmood Y. Kurdi, a journalist, focusing on Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, says, “Until now, KDP publicly rejects Barham Salih’s re-appointment, yet accepts someone from PUK that is accepted by Masoud Barzani. However, despite Barzani’s position against Salih, if the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework manage to unify their approach and agree on re-appointing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, then Salih has a higher chance. Moreover, if the regional dynamics are effective in appointing the new President, then Salih also has another high chance, considering his warm relationship with Tehran. Not to forget to mention his preference amongst officials in the United States and the European Union.”
The Outcome of the Parliament’s First Session
The early features of a consensus agreement between the single-Sadrist-led Shia bloc, the Sunni accord of Taqadum-Azam alliance, and the Kurdish bloc emerged in the re-appointment al-Halboosi. Muqtada al-Sadr himself even “congratulated” the Iraqi people on Twitter for the “first appearance of a national majority government”, in reference to the above coalition that resulted in al-Halboosi’s re-appointment. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean this alliance line will agree on the remaining appointments. Al-Halboosi becomes the first speaker of parliament to be re-elected for a second term in post-2003 Iraq, a move that confirms all the previous speculations and observations regarding his emergences Iraq’s new and young political Sunni leader.
Sadrist’s Hakim al-Zamili was appointed as the first deputy of the Parliament’s Speaker, and KDP’s Shakhwan Abdullah was appointed as the second deputy.
The first Shia rift in parliament was naming the largest bloc:
1. Sadrists are electoral winners with 73 seats claiming to be the largest bloc.
2. SCF came with 88 names created out of parliamentary alliances to announce themselves as the largest bloc.
The disagreement appeared on whether the constitution only acknowledges the largest bloc as per the elected seats. Meaning, the Sadrists are constitutionally the largest bloc and SCF’s attempt was to send the Sadrists and the other political parties a message of warning about the Framework’s already parliamentary significance and its ability to cripple any progress by the future cabinet.
Dr. Ahmed Rushdi, the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor at the Iraqi Parliament’s Secretary-General Office, told İRAM that “the Federal Court recognizes the largest parliamentary and not the political bloc during the first session, meaning that the SCF’s presented list of 88 names to the first Senior Speaker did present such a parliamentary majority in contrast to the Sadrist 76-long-list”. Dr. Rushdi, who was present during the opening session on January 9, continues to add that “the dispute continued as the Sadrists presented a new amended list to newly-elected Speaker with 90 MPs which included Sunni MPs from the Taqadum-Azam alliance.” Dr. Rushdi believes that regardless of the apparent intra-Shia rift, which the Federal Court might overlook, eventually, there will be a side deal between both sides, mediated by al-Halboosi.
According to Saadoon, Sadr’s attempt to create a majority government is nothing but a media campaign, “Sadr does not want to eliminate the SCF, and he has already compromised positions in the upcoming government to them, however, he wants their involvement under his command and conditions. After all, no one wants to get involved in a majority government and be unilaterally responsible for all the measures.” In Iraq’s unofficial political custom, a consensus government is to ensure its survival from the other political forces.