BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament held its first session on Monday since May elections but failed to elect a speaker as the two main rival blocs both insisted they had the largest number of seats to form a coalition government.
Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Iraqi clerics, whose Sairoon Alliance came first in the elections, said on Sunday he had secured 188 members for his coalition.
A few hours later, Al-Sadr’s arch rival, the former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, and the head of an alliance of pro-Iranian parties, Hadi Al-Amiri, claimed they had managed to pull together a 145-seat coalition.
Representatives from either side both requested to register their coalitions as the triumphant alliance.
The biggest bloc has the exclusive right to form a government.
The race to form the biggest alliance has been ongoing since the preliminary results of the election.
The first session of parliament was attended by the 297 newly-elected MPs, who swore the constitutional oath.
Shortly after, MPs loyal to Al-Amiri and Al-Maliki, as well as Kurdish MPs, pulled out of the session to block the quorum required to register the largest bloc.
Jamal Al-Assadi, a government legal expert, told Arab News that the two sides were disputing the technicalities of how they managed to secure their coalitions.
“Al-Sadr’s team said that the signature of the heads of parties are enough to make the alliance and form the biggest bloc while Al-Maliki and Al-Amiri’s team insist on having the signature of each member,” he said.
“The law says clearly that the signature of the heads of blocs are required to form the biggest bloc, but our guys have already ignored this in 2010 and 2014 and adopted the signatures of each of the deputies.”
MP Mohammed Zainni, who presided over the session, was forced to ask for the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq to decide which of the two blocs will be declared the biggest. The session was suspended until the Federal Court responds.
The negotiations over the past three months have been framed by tensions between Iran and the US. Iraq has been one of the main battle grounds for the two countries since the US invasion in 2003.
The two rival attempts to build a coalition are divided along these lines.
On the one side, Al-Fattah and State of law are entirely backed by Iran. Al-Fattah became the political umbrella for several prominent Shiite armed factions including Badr organization and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq.
On the other side is Sairoon and Al-Nassir, which are supported by the United States. Al-Nassir is led by outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who is jostling for a second term. Sairoon is the political party of the Battalion of Peace, Al-Sadr’s armed wing.
“The problem is that both coalitions incude armed factions, which are capable of destabilizing the situation in minutes,” a prominent Shiite leader told Arab News.
“These factions do not believe in peaceful or democratic rivalry and only know the language of arms to resolve their differences.
“We suggest to impose a curfew in Baghdad until this issue is resolved but the Minister of Interior said that everything is under control.”