Cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc wins Iraq election

Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr meets with ambassadors of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Kuwait, in Najaf, Iraq on May 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani)
Updated 19 May 2018
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Cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc wins Iraq election

  • PM Abadi is third behind pro-Iran figure, but he could still emerge as a compromise candidate palatable to all sides because he has skillfully managed the competing interests of the US and Iran during his term in office.
  • Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani has been holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new cabinet which would have Iran’s approval.

BAGHDAD: A political bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States who also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq, has won the country’s parliamentary election, the electoral commission said on Saturday.
Sadr himself cannot become prime minister as he did not run in the election, though his bloc’s victory puts him in a position to have a strong say in negotiations. His Sairoon electoral list captured 54 parliamentary seats.
The Al-Fatih bloc led by Hadi Al-Amiri, who has close ties with Iran and heads an umbrella group of paramilitaries that played a key role in defeating Islamic State, came in second with 47 seats.
The Victory Alliance, headed by incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, took third place with 42.
The victory was a surprising change of fortunes. The cleric, who made his name leading two violent uprisings against US occupation troops, was sidelined for years by Iranian-backed rivals.
His bloc’s performance represented a rebuke to a political elite that some voters blame for widespread corruption and dysfunctional governance.
Sadr’s unlikely alliance with communists and secular Iraqis says it fiercely opposes any foreign interference in Iraq, which is strongly backed by both Tehran and Washington.
It has promised to help the poor and build schools and hospitals in Iraq, which was battered in the war to defeat Daesh terrorists and has suffered from low oil prices.
Before the election, Iran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc to govern.
In a tweet shortly after results were announced, Sadr said: “Reform is victorious and corruption is diminishing.”
Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that Sadr will be able to hand-pick a prime minister. The other winning blocs would have to agree on the nomination.
In a 2010 election, Vice President Ayad Allawi’s group won the largest number of seats, albeit with a narrow margin, but he was blocked from becoming premier, which he blamed on Tehran.
The election dealt a blow to Abadi, but he could still emerge as a compromise candidate palatable to all sides because he has skillfully managed the competing interests of the United States and Iran — unwitting allies in the war against Daesh — during his term in office.
Amiri is regarded as one of the most powerful figures in Iraq. He spent two decades fighting Saddam Hussein from Iran.
Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and a highly influential figure in Iraq, has been holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new cabinet which would have Iran’s approval.
Negotiations are expected to drag on for months.
The government should be formed within 90 days of the official results.

 


Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

Updated 22 February 2019
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Truckloads of civilians leave Daesh enclave in Syria

  • The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria
  • The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital

NEAR BAGHOU: Trucks loaded with civilians left the last Daesh enclave in eastern Syria on Friday, as US-backed forces waited to inflict final defeat on the surrounded militants.
Reporters near the front line at Baghouz saw dozens of trucks driving out with civilians inside them, but it was not clear if more remained in the tiny pocket.
The village is all that remains for Daesh in the Euphrates valley region that became its final populated stronghold in Iraq and Syria after it lost the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa in 2017.
The SDF has steadily driven the militants down the Euphrates after capturing their Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2017, but does not want to mount a final attack until all civilians are out.
The US-led coalition which supports the SDF has said Islamic State’s “most hardened fighters” remain holed up in Baghouz, close to the Iraqi frontier.
Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, earlier told Reuters that more than 3,000 civilians were estimated to still be inside Baghouz and there would be an attempt to evacuate them on Friday.
“If we succeed in evacuating all the civilians, at any moment we will take the decision to storm Baghouz or force the terrorists to surrender,” he said.
Though the fall of Baghouz marks a milestone in the campaign against Islamic State and the wider conflict in Syria, the militant group is still seen as a major security threat.
It has steadily turned to guerrilla warfare and still holds territory in a remote, sparsely populated area west of the Euphrates River — a part of Syria otherwise controlled by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a US pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.
Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 troops, saying they had defeated Daesh militants in Syria.

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