Shia Contest for the next Iraqi Premiership

Yasin Taha

 The Iraqi elections, scheduled for May 2018, are characterized by a fractured political landscape due to the unprecedented fragmentation of all Iraqi components, unlike previous elections which were campaigned for by solid unified sectarian and national electoral coalitions and alliances. Despite the immense rivalry in the lead –up to the polls contested by 88 electoral lists with 7 thousand candidates, much of the attention is fixed on the race among the Shia lists. Such lists are expected to nominate the next prime minister based on what has become a common political tradition, albeit not written, since the Iraqi constitution was endorsed in 2005; this comes from the fact that Shias are the majority of the Iraqi population leaving the Sunni and Kurdish presence with the limited complementary role for the Shia construction as well as sharing of several ministries and gains. Electorally the Shia political arena, which outlines the features of the next prime minister, is divided across five major coalitions and a number of local fragmented yet territorially strong lists such as Hanan al-Fatlawi's "Will-Alirada" and Haitham Al- Jabouri's “competencies- Kafaat " lists. The most prominent Shia list is currently dominating the media outlets is the "Victory Alliance or Tahalof Al-Naser" led by the outgoing prime minister Haider Al-Abadi as the executive leader of the country; his list is supported by the United States and other western countries which have shown this by sending signals that the prime minister is a favorite. The list holds the name " Victory  or Alnaser " as a benediction for achieving victory in defeating ISIS, formally declared on December of 2017 in the centre of Mosul which was the organization's stronghold. The declaration of this coalition was accompanied by the announcement of "Al-Fath - The Conquest" alliance which includes the main factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and its political supporters such as the Islamic Supreme Council. The components of "Al-Fath" fought against ISIS and participated in achieving the victory militarily. The majority of these factions are considered to be part of the Iranian influence, in contrast to Abadi's alliance, because of the components' loyalty and proximity to Tehran on one hand and their efforts to replicate the Iranian religious and political doctrine known as the rule of jurist " Wilayat al-Faqih " on the other as well as supporting the presence of reservist forces beside the army. The two newly announced lists "Al-Naser" and "Al-Fath" were launched alongside already known traditional Shia alliances such as the " State of Law Coalition " led by former prime minister and current vice president Nuri al-Maliki, " and another one supported by the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr under the name of "Those Marching Towards Reform" which includes a mix of Sadrist Islamists under the cloak of the Integrity Party as well as civil and leftist figures in an unprecedented political move. In addition to the list of the Wisdom – Al-Hikma Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim, the grandson of the late religious cleric  Mohsin Al-Hakim, who took over the leadership of the sect more than half a century ago. The main Shia parties have tried to organize as many as possible from the existing factions within a major coalition which can resolve the controversy over the premiership as early as they can prior to the scheduled polls on May 12, but the Shia electoral map has not been settled because of the rapid changes in the "allies' '' orientation leading to a re-organization of these parties as well as thinking about new moves and actions in an Iraqi political game known for years aimed at securing the state's posts and  positions, viewed as sources of money and power. Despite the emergence of both " Al-Naser " and " Al-Fath " as electoral alliances under the leadership of Abadi, from the achieved victories claimed by many of their supporters as a "great victory", yet their fragile unity lasted for only a few hours mainly because of their political nature and direction prolonging the prevalent division among the emerging Shia factions after defeating ISIS militarily. The leaders of the two alliances justified their separation by "technical electoral reasons" leaving the doors open to future alliances after the upcoming polls to form the "largest bloc" in the parliament. According to several indications as well as leaked information, prime minister's post and ministerial shares remain behind a possible rapid collapse of their unity in light of increasing speculation about Badr Organization's strong desire to take up the premiership either for its leader Hadi al-Amiri or another leader of that official Iraqi political party which came to prominence in 2014 fighting against ISIS in Iraq. Currently the party is seeking to further consolidate its new status by getting close to some regional key players like Saudi Arabia reinforcing the expected party’s desires to take the office of the prime minister. The leaked information also indicates that Abadi's terms and conditions for a joint electoral mission were short in winning the hearts and minds of those willing to ally with him as well as his rejection for the condition of some of those who were approaching him to participate as equal political figures in the "Al-Naser" coalition. The reason behind this dismay is the prime minister's refusal to enlist prospective allies as equivalent partners in his electoral list. Instead Mr. Abadi expressed his wish to have them as high profile candidates for his " Al-Naser" coalition with his eyes on winning another term as Iraq's premier especially with his views about  having the biggest share in attracting potential voters, because of the achievements during his term in office such as retaking the ISIS occupied cities, overcoming severe financial crisis due to the collapse of oil prices beside the consequences of the war accompanied by an openness in Iraq's foreign policy toward its Arab and Gulf neighbors as well as controlling Kurds' efforts for independence from Iraq ,with Tehran and Ankara fully supporting Baghdad  in September 2017  by rejecting the Kurdish move to hold a referendum for independence . Despite the optimism which prevails in Abadi's election camp about winning , speculation and doubts are growing about the latter's success in securing a second term in office while his traditional opponent , Nuri al-Maliki is present and still have a strong level of influence and people around him as shown in his mass rallies.  He is striving to block the way from Abadi whether by presenting himself as a rival candidate or by putting forward a competitive person from his constituency in case of showing rejection cards in his face following tragic failures associated with his term in office such as the fall of Mosul in June 2014. Observers say they expect recent rivalries and the Shia political parties' failure  to form almost equal coalitions in term of strength led by leaders such as Al-Abadi ambitious to be in power, add to the difficulties of resolving the position of premiership among  the Shias;  it is estimated that the electoral results of the five major Shia political alliances will be close to one another since the competition is confined to the 185 seats allocated to the Shia constituencies out of 328 parliamentary seats. Consequently, the competition will be stiff to reach an agreement to decide the new prime minister as quickly as possible after the elections, which requires obtaining at least 165 (50+1) parliamentary votes. In the shadow of the apparent Shiite electoral fragmentation, it is expected that the Kurds and Sunnis will be the target of Shia alliances seeking to secure the majority, especially the Sunni alliances which are likely to play the role of King makers under the dissolution of the Kurdish alliance, which in the previous parliamentary elections was a source of shifting the balance of power in favor of the rival lists and alliances.    

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