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
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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.”


Migrants stranded at sea for three weeks face deportation

Updated 20 June 2019
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Migrants stranded at sea for three weeks face deportation

  • Vessel carrying 75 illegal refugees, including 32 children, remained stranded 25 km off Tunisia

TUNIS: Tunisia has allowed dozens of migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, to disembark after three weeks stranded in the Mediterranean, so that they can return to their home countries, the Red Crescent said on Wednesday.

An Egyptian boat rescued at least 75 migrants in Tunisian waters last month. But local authorities in the governorate of Medinine said its migrant centers were too overcrowded to let them ashore, leaving the vessel stranded 25 km off the coastal city of Zarzis.

“After they were stranded for three weeks at sea in difficult conditions, Tunisia agreed to dock the ship, and migrants accepted to return to their countries in coming days,” Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters.

After a visit by officials from Bangladesh Embassy, the migrants agreed to return home, according to Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official.

Earlier, Red Crescent representatives welcomed to port 64 Bangladeshis, nine Egyptians, a Moroccan, a Sudanese citizen, who left Zuwara in Libya in late May.

The migrants, which include at least 32 children and unaccompanied minors, are to be transferred to a reception center in Sfax from where they are set to return home, Slim added.

Worried about creating a precedent, Tunisian authorities said they accepted the migrants as an exception and for “humanitarian” reasons.

“We thank Tunisia’s renewed commitment to life and dignity,” said Lorena Lando, the head of the International Organization for Migration in Tunisia.

She added that it is urgent to put in place a collaborative approach to helping migrants in the Mediterranean.

Neighboring Libya’s west coast is a frequent departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe by paying human traffickers. But their numbers have dropped after an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coast guard.

At least 65 migrants drowned last month when their boat capsized off Tunisia after setting out from Libya.

In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, a smaller number but a higher death rate than in previous years, with one dying for every three who reach European shores, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.