Iraq: With a New Alliance, Sairoon and Fatah Inch Toward a Parliamentary Majority

4 MINS READJun 13, 2018 | 20:00 GMT
The Big Picture

Beset with economic issues and an enduring fight against terrorist groups, Iraq's government is subject to external influence. Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the regional powers that are working hardest to pressure the Iraqi government into policies that favor their own governments. Because of Iraq's status as a political battleground in the region, especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and Riyadh's ally, the United States), the makeup of the next government is important to any other country interested in investing with and in Iraq, or cooperating alongside Iraq to continue fighting terrorist groups. Stratfor's annual and quarterly forecasts highlighted how Iran would try to protect some of its entrenched regional influence by defending its political ties in Iraq.

In the month since Iraq's May 12 parliamentary elections, leaders of various political coalitions, or "lists" as they're called, have been negotiating to form larger alliances to gain legislative power. On June 12, leaders of two of the largest electoral lists, Sairoon and Fatah, announced that they had established an alliance, which will help shape the future of Iraqi politics. The leader of Sairoon, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, noted that his group's previously announced alliances with the Hikma list and Vice President Ayad Allawi's Wataniya list still stand.

Together, Sairoon and Fatah (led by politician and militia leader Hadi al-Amiri) won the most seats in the May 12 elections. If their new alliance, which currently holds a combined 142 seats, can add another 23 seats from the other dozen or so lists, they would have a parliamentary majority. (The total number of seats in parliament is 329).

The Sairoon-Fatah alliance is shaping up to be the loudest voice in parliament, inviting several key questions. First up: Once the negotiations settle, who will take over aIraq's most powerful political office, that of the prime minister? Sairoon leader al-Sadr did not run for parliament, which means he cannot become prime minister. And in order for incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to retain his position, his Nasr coalition (42 seats) would likely need to join the Sairoon-Fatah agreement. Other possibilities include Allawi — likely as a consensus candidate — or Fatah leader al-Amiri himself.

As for how Sairoon and Fatah will get enough allies to have a parliamentary majority, the integration of the Nasr coalition is one possibility. Another option is the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has 25 seats. Both al-Sadr and al-Amiri have recently held working meetings with the KDP, suggesting they may be engaging in coalition negotiations. Notably, former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's list, the 26-person State of Law coalition, is not part of the new alliance, even though al-Amiri and Maliki are the strongest allies of Iran among the election's victors. But since Maliki is engaged in disputes with both al-Sadr and Allawi, his exclusion makes sense.

Further negotiations over critical issues like the finance ministry, oil ministry and head of Iraq National Oil Company will take weeks, if not months. But no matter how the final makeup of parliament shakes out, there will be questions over how much influence Iran will have. Al-Amiri, electoral victor and head of one of the most prominent Iran-backed Shiite militias, will certainly provide a strong channel of communication with Tehran. But characterizing the new alliance as a "pro-Iran" bloc is faulty, since all of the other leaders have sought to distance themselves from actions that suggest direct kowtowing to Iran. Indeed, al-Sadr and al-Amiri made clear on May 12 that their partnership exists as a nationalist alliance that rejects sectarianism. Thus, the nascent future government will likely be focused on balancing the outside influences Iran, as well asl external Iraqi allies such as the United States. 

The new alliance will likely try to address many of the growing demands of modern Iraqis: it will be cross-sectarian, nationalist and pro-reform. But because the bloc is such a hodgepodge in composition (and may well become moreso), it could end up hamstrung by conflicting interests and unable to actually advance any reform measures. And economic reforms in Iraq aren't easy to begin with, especially considering how weak the country's unwieldy, oil-dependent economy is and how deep its entrenched patronage networks run.

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