June 15, 2018 | Policy Brief

Iraqi Shiite Cleric Sadr Announces Political Alliance with Pro-Iran Coalition

June 15, 2018 | Policy Brief

Iraqi Shiite Cleric Sadr Announces Political Alliance with Pro-Iran Coalition

This week, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced a political alliance with Hadi al-Amiri, leader of a pro-Iran coalition linked to powerful Iranian-backed militias. The move represents a change of direction for Sadr, who had been marketing himself as a nationalist who opposes any foreign influence in the country’s domestic affairs.

The Sadr-Amiri alliance rests on a foundation of shared interests. First, the alliance puts Sadr and Amiri into a far stronger position to shape the coalition that will be necessary to form a new government. Second, the reconciliation of Sadr and Amiri resolves, at least for now, a serious rift in the Shiite community.

During a joint press conference, Sadr, whose Sairoon bloc came in first with 54 seats in the May 12 parliamentary election, said that their alliance is a “nationalist one away from the sectarian quota system.” Amiri, whose al-Fath al-Mubin came in second with 47 seats, said, “the announcement is the beginning of a nationalist alliance.” The two leaders also urged other political blocs to join “the national space” to expedite the formation of the government.

Sadr also stressed that his existing alliance with former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s al-Wataniya coalition, which won 21 seats, and Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s al-Hikma Movement, which got 19 seats, remains effective. Counting these 40 seats, Sadr and Amiri now have 141 total. They remain 24 short of the 165-seat majority needed to form a government, yet the alliance has a wide choice of potential partners.

A pending recount may lead to adjustments of the election’s results, but significant changes are unlikely. Parliament mandated the recount in response to widespread concern about election fraud.

The Sadr-Amiri pact reportedly was orchestrated by Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who seeks to preserve Shiite unity and maintain Tehran’s influence in Iraq. Soleimani is said to have pressured Shiite blocs, including Sairoon and al-Fath, to unite in order to form the government with a comfortable majority, particularly after Sadr’s call for unity and warning against dragging Iraq into “civil war.”

The Quds Force leader reportedly visited Baghdad on Monday to contain the tensions that erupted after a fire engulfed the storage site housing half of Baghdad’s ballot boxes. Mojtaba Khamenei, son of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accompanied Soleimani to Baghdad as well, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network reported.

The Sadr-Amiri alliance is likely to take the lead in naming the next prime minister, which may put an end to al-Dawa Party’s monopoly of the premiership since 2006. Sadr is not eligible to serve since he is not an MP, but Amiri is. Their alliance significantly reduces the prospects of a second term for the incumbent, Haider al-Abadi, whose al-Nasr (Victory) coalition came in third with 42 seats.

The United States should remain wary of the newly formed alliance, which could ultimately bring to the political fore two figures who oppose Washington’s policies in the region. The Trump administration should also be ready to help Iraqis counter Tehran’s promotion of sectarian rule and the corruption that sustains it.

Romany Shaker is an Arabic-language research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @RomanySh.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.