Iraq’s main Shiite parliamentary bloc has chosen incumbent Nouri al-Maliki as its candidate for prime minister, possibly bringing the country one step closer to ending seven months of political deadlock.
Anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc, which won 39 seats in March’s parliamentary elections and has been seen as the kingmaker in forming a government, endorsed Maliki on Friday. This cleared the way for the National Alliance (NA) to announce its decision the same day. Sadr had previously opposed Maliki.
The National Review Online says that the Sadrists’ support of Maliki puts him on the verge of forming a governing coalition, which would be “close to the worst possible outcome of the Iraqi election and the aftermath.”
Maliki’s political rivals speculated that Sadr had come under intense pressure from Iran to endorse the prime minister. “The Iranians had dispatched a special team to Iraq to push the Sadrists and other parties to back Maliki,” the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an Iraqi politician who spoke on condition of anonymity.
If the secular-leaning Shiite politician Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which actually won two more seats than Maliki’s coalition in the election, is not included in the government, it is feared that Sunnis will be alienated and sectarian violence renewed.
“Worse,” says National Review Online, if Maliki is successful, he would be forming a government “on the strength of the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, a rabidly anti-American cleric closely allied with Iran, whose price for supporting Maliki is likely to include control of key ministries in the next government. The last time the Sadrists were given a measure of control over the instruments of state, they transformed them into tools to wage sectarian war against the Sunnis.”
National Review Online further comments on the prospect of a Maliki-led government:
The current state of play is not quite Iran’s ideal outcome. It would have preferred a few other candidates for prime minister before Maliki, but otherwise Tehran ought to be pleased. It has a chance to exclude the Sunnis, put Sadr at the center of the Iraqi government, and reconstitute a version of the Iraqi government that brought the country to the brink of destruction from 2005–07. If the Sadrists are kingmakers, it ensures that the faction most determined to see us out of the country entirely—and thus not present to provide a counterbalance to Iran—will have tremendous influence.
The NA is still four seats short of an absolute majority in the 325-member Council of Representatives, however, and may yet need more seats, as two blocs within the Iraqi National Alliance—which joined with Maliki’s State of Law Alliance in May—did not participate in the discussions.
One of those groups, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (isci), has reportedly refused to endorse Maliki. The isci, which was founded and long based in Iran and is currently the most pro-Iranian group in Iraq, is in talks with other Shiite Islamists who are considering forming a coalition with Allawi. The Los Angeles Times reports that members of Allawi’s group have said they are willing to endorse isci’s candidate for prime minister, the current Vice President Adel Mehdi.
Such a bloc would be almost as large as Maliki’s, and would present a viable alternative for the other main bloc—the Kurds—to support.
Either way, Iran will have strong influence within the government.
With Iraq now holding the world record for the longest period without a government following an election, the country is still far from forming a stable government. But with the U.S. having virtually no influence over the formation of that government, Iran will continue working behind the scenes for an outcome to its liking.
For over a decade and a half now, the Trumpet has pointed to the likelihood of Iraq falling into Iran’s orbit. Columnist Joel Hilliker wrote in November 2003 that there would come a point when “Iran will be entrenched—and the U.S. won’t have the will to stop it.” That lack of will is on clear display today. ▪