Rival Iraqi factions make coalition deal and end Al-Abadi’s prime minister hopes

Al-Abadi, the head of Dawa’s political bureau, who was looking to win a second term, was the biggest loser in the deal. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Rival Iraqi factions make coalition deal and end Al-Abadi’s prime minister hopes

  • Deal comes after Muqtada Al-Sadr and Hadi Al-Amiri held a series of meetings
  • Both Iran and the US seem to have agreed to the coalition

BAGHDAD: Pro-Iran parties in Iraq reached a deal on Thursday to join a parliamentary coalition overseen by anti-Tehran cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr that ends Haider Al-Abadi’s hopes of hanging on as prime minister.

The compromise means members of the ruling Shiite Dawa Party will be excluded from competing for the post to lead the next government, negotiators involved in the talks told Arab News.

Al-Abadi, the head of Dawa’s political bureau, who was looking to win a second term, was the biggest loser in the deal. Nuri Al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister and head of the State of Law coalition, who was hoping to play a key role in nominating the new head of government also lost out.

Iraqi’s Shiite rivals have been frantically competing to form the largest parliamentary coalition, since elections in May.

Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shiite clerics, whose Sairoon list came first, formed a 154-seat coalition including Al-Abadi and his Al-Nassir list.

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 At the same time, Hadi Al-Amiri, who heads the pro-Iranian Al-Fattah list, formed a coalition of 108 members, including Al-Maliki and his State of Law alliance.

Both Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri tried to register their coalitions in the first session of parliament on Sept. 3. The federal court had been requested to rule between them. 

Violent demonstrations broke out in Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub,  shortly afterwards. At least 15 demonstrators were shot dead, scores  wounded and dozens of government and political party  buildings set on fire, including the Iranian consulate. 

Some political leaders saw the violence as an attempt to pressure negotiations in Baghdad, and Al-Sadr agreed to resume negotiations with Al-Amiri. 

Several meetings were held between the two men in the last week at Al-Sadr’s residency in the holy city of Najaf, sources said.

“We have reached preliminary understandings with Al-Sadr and are working to turn them into agreements under the umbrella of Marjiyaa (the highest Shiite clerics in Iraq),” a key Al-Fattah negotiator told Arab News.

“Both Abadi and Maliki are out. Abadi is a part of the (new) coalition but he is not a candidate for the prime minister post.

Muqtada Al-Sadr supporters celebrate the election victory of his Sairoon alliance. (AFP)

“Amiri also is not a nominee anymore. As long as Abadi will not be nominated (by Sadr or his allies) then Amiri will not be nominated.”

The offer, which was presented by Al-Fattah through the UN delegation in Iraq, suggests that both Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri had to make some concessions to form the coalition. 

Al-Abadi as a candidate for prime minister and Al-Maliki and his alliance as part of the coalition were sacrificed for the agreement, negotiators told Arab News.

Both men are cornerstones of the Dawa Party and have been the heads of successive governments since 2005 but they had a bitter fall out in 2014. Al-Abadi stood in as a compromise candidate for prime minister when Al-Maliki’s nomination for a third term was widely rejected because of his sectarian policies. Those policies were blamed for fueling the resentment that allowed Daesh to seize a third of Iraqi territory.

“Everyone is angry at the Dawa Party and they blame its leaders for what happened in Iraq since 2005. So it was not difficult to abandon it and its candidates,” a negotiator for Al-Sadr’s alliance said.

Al-Abadi’s nomination for the prime minister post had been backed by Al-Sadr and Ammar Al-Hakim, the head of Hikma, who controls 22 seats and is one of Al-Sadr’s key allies.

Both invested a large effort in promoting Al-Abadi during negotiations with the other blocs. They said he had not enough time to achieve his program in government because the first three years of his last term were dominated by fighting Daesh, the sources said.

“The problem of Abadi is he has not helped himself and has not helped us. He was creative in making mistakes along the last six months and his negotiating and media teams are weak,” a second Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.

“Now we have to find a candidate who is acceptable for Iran, the US and Najaf.

“Najaf is deeply involved this time and they (the clerics) have been using Sadr as their stick to pressure the political rivals.”

Violent protests in Basra earlier this month undermined Haider Al-Abadi's position and hopes that he could continue as prime minister. (AFP)

Najaf is led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani the most revered Shiite cleric. The city’s clergymen are seen by Iraqis as the sponsor of the political process that emerged after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and allowed the majority Shiites to take the reins of power through elections.

Sistani has been reluctant to interfere directly in the political process, but on Monday he made a rare intervention that changed the course of forming the next government.

Sistani’s office issued a statement saying he refused the nomination for the post of prime minister any politician who had previously exercised power. 

“Abadi is out. That’s it. None of us would publically challenge the desire of Sistani,” a senior Shiite politician involved in the talks told Arab News. “We have many other more important things to worry about, so we moved on.”

The final decision over all the details related to the new ruling coalition and the nomination of the next government, including the president, the speaker of the parliament and the prime minister have to be concluded before Sept. 15.  

Iran and the United States, the two main international players in Iraq’s political and security scene since 2003, seem to have agreed on this scenario, three negotiators from the various sides told Arab News. The US has backed Al-Abadi for a second term while Iran saw him as a threat to its interests in Iraq specifically after he announced his support for the economic sanctions imposed on Iran since Donald Trump withdrew America from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“It becomes clear for the Iranians that going without Sadr is not in their interest and that they have to deal with reality,” a key Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.

“The reality indicates that Fattah cannot form a government, which would be accepted by local, regional and international forces. The US would topple it within weeks.

“The Iranians do not have the ability to open a front against the Americans in Iraq, so they are satisfied by the blow that they directed to the Americans by burning Al-Abadi.

“Now, they (the Iranians) have decided to step back to let Sadr and the Americans to lead the negotiations and form the new coalition.” 


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.