Iraqi leaders begin negotiations to form ruling bloc

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr shows his ink-stained index finger outside a polling station in Najaf on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 15 May 2018

Iraqi leaders begin negotiations to form ruling bloc

  • The scenario most under discussion now would bring together Abadi’s Al-Nassir Alliance, Al-Fattah, which includes the candidates of most of the Shiite armed factions, Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, Ammar Al-Hakeem’s Hikma Alliance and Ayad Allawi
  • The Iraqi constitution mandates that the largest parliamentary bloc formed after the elections has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and form the government

BAGHDAD: Negotiations to form the biggest parliamentary bloc in the new Iraqi Parliament have begun, even though the election results have not yet been approved by the federal court.

The preliminary results, announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) late on Sunday, clearly showed the progress of the “Saeiroon” electoral list, backed by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr; the “Al-Fattah” list headed by Hadi Al-Amiri, the head of the Badr organization; and the “Al-Nassir” list headed by the current Prime Minister Haider Abadi.

The Iraqi constitution mandates that the largest parliamentary bloc formed after the elections has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and form the government. The announced results include 92 percent of the votes but do not include the results of those who voted from abroad, prisoners and those in hospitals; none of those are expected to change the results very much.

The scenario most under discussion now would bring together Abadi’s Al-Nassir Alliance, Al-Fattah, which includes the candidates of most of the Shiite armed factions, Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, Ammar Al-Hakeem’s Hikma Alliance and Ayad Allawi’s Wattiniya Alliance.

This would secure more than 156 seats and Sadr would be pushed into parliamentary opposition.

Al-Fattah and Al-Nassir tried to form an alliance before the elections, but it collapsed after only 24 hours because of their "not agreeing on the details.”

Getting Al-Nassir and Al-Fattah into a single bloc will provide the necessary protection for the popular mobilization which includes most of the Shiite paramilitary groups and will ensure the continuation of international support for the next government.

“We are afraid that Sadr is not acceptable to the regional and international powers to form the government, so we had to go with the other option,” an anonymous senior Shiite politician familiar with the negotiations launched by several Shiite blocs, told Arab News.

“The negotiations have started already. They (the negotiations) are aiming at bringing Al-Nassir, Al-Fattah and State of Law (SOL) to form the nucleus of the largest bloc as a first step.

“The second step is talking to (Ammar) Al-Hakim and (Ayad) Allawi, who we believe will be able to bring a Kurdish bloc with him.”

The other scenario, which does not seem promising, would be to bring “Saeiroon” and Al-Nassir together to form the nucleus of the largest parliamentary bloc and then move on to ally with Allawi's Wattiniya, Hikma, and a number of small Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

This might get at least 138 seats, but it would also mean that Sadr would not get the post of prime minister and get the minimum acceptance of the regional and international community.

“Sadr is politically unstable and handles things in a temperamental way that does not suit politics,” a prominent Shiite leader close to Abadi told Arab News. “We have considered this option but we found that Al-Fattah can ally with others and easily form a bigger bloc.

“Also, the past years has shown that the easiest decision that Sadr can make is to withdraw his ministers from the government and withdraw his support for his deputies in Parliament. So what would we do if he decided in the middle of the term to boycott the Cabinet or withdraw his support for his deputies in Parliament?

“We have not excluded this option but we believe that we have to think about every single possibility in order to achieve the goal.”

The third scenario, which seems to be a demand for the majority of the Shiite blocs — which did not expect the strong showing of Sadr in this elections — is that Sadr voluntarily chooses to go to the opposition in Parliament. In this case he can play a big role in changing many laws that would achieve his plans calling for comprehensive reform to reduce the financial and administrative corruption rampant in various government departments.

“The ideal role for the Sadrists is to form a strong opposition in Parliament and they have the opportunity now,” Rafid Sadiq, a political analyst, told Arab News.

“Sadr is the only one who can control his parliamentary bloc and prevent its slide into compromises, and thus ensure its strong and influential survival within Parliament.”

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”