A hot political summer awaits Iraq

6 min read
05 July, 2022
Analysis: Iraq is on the verge of descending into chaos after Muqtada al-Sadr's withdrawal from the country's political system as anger over a lack of basic services and political deadlock threatens to boil over.

Following the resignation in June of lawmakers loyal to Iraq’s Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, there are several looming scenarios that could play out over the coming months, including dissolving the parliament and forming an emergency government.

With Iraq entering the scorching heat of summer, the country's politics are also hotting up. The anger of hungry and hopeless Iraqis wishing to see a new functioning government is expected to reach its climax this month as blistering temperatures lay bare the lack of basic services, including drinking water and permanent electricity.

Iraq held its first-ever early election on 10 October 2021, in which Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc won a majority with 73 seats.

"The anger of hungry and hopeless Iraqis wishing to see a new functioning government is expected to reach its climax this month as blistering temperatures lay bare the lack of basic services"

After nearly nine months, however, different Iraqi factions have yet to agree on naming a president and forming a government capable of making reforms amid increasing regional tensions and deteriorating political, economic, and social conditions at home.

Sadr had promised his supporters he would form a 'national majority' government to implement reforms and abandon the current power-sharing (muhasasa) system governing the country along ethno-sectarian lines between Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish groups.

Since 2003, when the US-led invasion toppled the former regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been run through this proportional system. Corruption and mismanagement have prevailed ever since.

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Looming scenarios

Sadr had formed a triple alliance with the Iraqi Sunni political blocs and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in a bid to form a "national majority" government and sideline pro-Iran Shia blocs organised under the Coordination Framework coalition.

But frustrated in his efforts to fulfil his promise to his supporters, Sadr ordered lawmakers from his bloc to resign, which all his 73 MPs did on 12 June.

"The scenario that is most probable is that the Coordination Framework tries to reach understandings with political forces, but eventually they should offer more concessions if they want to form a consensus government that would not be a weak one,” political analyst Ihsan al-Shammari, who heads the Iraqi Political Thinking Center in Baghdad, told The New Arab.

"However, another more probable scenario is that people take to the streets against the Iraqi parliament and the upcoming government. It is expected that Sadr’s followers along with civil and liberal movements - including supporters of the October 2019 protests - will try to bring about a new political alternative to the current political ruling class and the traditional parties.”

Al-Shamari stressed that the protests could lead to the formation of a transitional government in order to amend the current Iraqi constitution and rewrite a new one to be the basis for running the country’s affairs.

He indicated that Sadr’s supporters will no longer let the Coordination Framework and Iran-backed Shia armed groups corner their leader.

“The strategy of the Coordination Framework in the past period was to break Sadr politically, thus I think Sadr’s followers will react violently and would raid the Iraqi parliament, toppling it totally.”

Iraq Protests.jpg
In October 2019, widespread protests demanded better living conditions, amendments to the country's election law, and holding early elections. [Getty]

Instability and chaos  

Public protests in October 2019 swept the southern and central provinces of Iraq. Protesters were demanding better living conditions, amendments to the country’s election law, and holding early elections.

More than 600 people were killed by Iraqi security forces and militias. Consequently, Iraq’s then-elected prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was forced to resign and Mustafa al-Kadhimi was appointed as PM to pave the way for snap elections that were held in October last year.

But it seems that Sadr will choose escalation and public protests in order to prevent his opponents from forming their own consensus cabinet.

Sadr in a statement on 22 June refuted allegations that he made the withdrawal decision under the direct threat of Iran, but he admitted for the first time that pro-Iran militia groups have been using Iraq’s judiciary as a political tool and pressuring non-Shia political blocs.  

Salih Mohmmed al-Iraqi, a controversial personality on Twitter thought to be close to Sadr, in early July first identified the reasons that made the Shia leader withdraw from Iraqi politics, mainly accusing parliament speaker Mohammed Halbusi and KDP leader Masoud Barzani of "treason" in what they promised Sadr.

"After nearly nine months, different Iraqi factions have yet to agree on naming a president and forming a government capable of making reforms"

“Sadr’s withdrawal needs to be deeply contemplated, what happened is the outcome of a multi-factor phenomenon that doing politics in Iraq has lost all aspects of democracy," Sardar Aziz, a Kurdish political analyst told The New Arab.

"It is going in a direction where political actors cannot make concessions for each other, trust each other, and work together, but they are becoming more suspicious of each other with the intention of, if they could, destroying each other,” he added.

“This could lead to the danger that all Iraqi sides will reinforce themselves, consequently, corruption will prevail, and the system and the society’s elites will become weaker. In the short term, there is no solution, and Iraq’s political future will see more instability. In the long term, the current political deadlock will prolong, and the situation will complicate even further as the political stalemate continues.”

Aziz emphasised that the available options, for example dissolving the parliament and going into another early election, are also difficult, since Iraq needs at least one year to amend the election law and make needed preparations.

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He indicated that Sadr wants to show that Iraq’s political process cannot go on without him, and will never tolerate opponent lawmakers replacing his MPs in the parliament.

“Sadr knows that if another early election is held in Iraq, his bloc would not secure more seats, because his political game is obvious to all,” Aziz added.

“Iraq’s politics is also related to what is expected in Iran, the conditions in Iran are unstable, the Iranians want to show that they can marginalise Sadr, but I think it is not an easy process.”  

As the world saw, angry protesters torched Libya's parliament building in Tobruk on 1 July in anger at a political deadlock and rising prices, and it is very likely Baghdad's parliament could suffer the same fate.

In Iraq's tense political scene, however, this could lead to wider bloodshed and even protracted fighting, unless the international community acts to prevent it. 

Dana Taib Menmy is an investigative freelance journalist from the Iraqi Kurdistan region writing on issues of politics, society, human rights, security, and minorities. His work has appeared in Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye, The National, among many other outlets.

Follow him on Twitter: @danataibmenmy