Iraqi cleric’s push to oust Iran-backed factions may clash | world news
By Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq could, for the first time in years, have a government that excludes Iranian-backed parties if a powerful populist cleric who dominated a recent election keeps his word, according to Iraqi politicians, officials government officials and independent analysts.
But moves by Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risk angering their heavily armed militias who make up some of the strongest and most anti-American military forces in Iraq. , they say. .
The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on Sunday when his Sadrist movement, with a Sunni parliamentary alliance and Western-leaning Kurds, re-elected a president of the parliament opposed by the Iran-aligned camp. with a solid majority.
Parliament is due in the next few weeks to choose the country’s president, who will appeal to the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist movement with whom he chooses to work.
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“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement this week, using a term officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Muslims. Kurds, but no Iranian-backed parties.
Sadr’s politicians, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.
The Iranian camp “should face reality: the losers of the elections cannot form the government”, said Riyad al-Masoudi, a senior official of the Sadrist Movement.
“We have a real majority, a strong front that includes us, Sunnis, most Kurds and many independents and we can form a government very soon.”
Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and the political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington https://www.Reuters.com/investigates/special-report/iraq-cleric and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.
But the exclusion of the Iranian camp from the government risks a violent backlash.
“If the Sadrists get their government with a national majority…those who oppose it will see it as a division of the Shiites and a threat to their power,” said Ahmed Younis, an Iraqi political and legal analyst.
“They will do everything they can to avoid losing that grip.”
Shia groups have dominated Iraqi politics since the US toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. They span a spectrum of parties, most with armed wings, but now divide into two camps: those pro- Iran and those who oppose Tehran’s influence in Iraq.
The Shiite elite shared control of many ministries, with Iran-aligned groups holding the upper hand until the recent rise of Sadr, the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 election, which dealt a crushing blow to the camp Iranian https://www.Reuters.com/world/middle-east/iraq-counts-votes-after-lowest-ever-election-turnout-2021-10-11.
For the first time after Saddam, Iran-aligned groups could see themselves in the opposition in parliament.
Events since the election have shown how dangerous the growing rift between Sadr and his Iranian-backed opponents has become.
In November, protests against the election result by supporters of these parties turned violent and an armed drone attack blamed on Iran-linked factions hit a residence of the widely regarded incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. as a close ally of Sadr https://www.Reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-seeks-cool-tensions-iraq-2021-12-22.
On Friday, an explosion hit the Baghdad party headquarters of newly re-elected parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi.
It was not immediately clear whether this was related to Halbousi’s election by parliament on Sunday or who was responsible for it. There was no claim of liability. An Iran-aligned group issued a warning this week after parliament ruled that Iraq could spiral into violence.
An Iraqi government official, who declined to be named, said he expected members of the Iranian camp to use the threat of violence to secure a place in government, but would not escalate into a full-scale conflict with Sadr.
Other observers, however, say Sadr’s insistence on weeding out Iran-aligned parties and militias could be a dangerous gamble.
“The question is, does he (Sadr) realize how potentially destabilizing this is and is he ready for the violent pushback?” said Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics.
“The (Iranian-backed) militias are increasingly openly threatening violence, and Sadr says they can’t do that. It’s a scary moment.”
Halbousi’s election was seen as an easy victory for the Sadrists. But the stakes will be higher in the selection of a president and a prime minister.
Politicians on both sides of the Shia divide show few signs that they might soften their positions.
“The Sadrists…the marginalization of parts of the Shiite political class could lead to government boycotts, street protests and gun violence,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a senior official in the government. Fatah political alliance aligned with Iran.
A second Sadrist politician, who declined to be named on orders from his party, said: “We are powerful, we have a strong leader and millions of supporters who are ready to take to the streets and sacrifice themselves.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, John Davison and Aref Mohammed in Basra, writing by John Davison, editing by William Maclean)
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