A surprise election victory for fiery cleric Moqtada Sadr seems to have shaken Iraq’s political landscape at the expense of foreign influence in the country.
The populist preacher, a firebrand who once battled US troops, has cobbled together a broad technocrat coalition tasked with rooting out Iraq’s endemic corruption. But can he really sideline powerful foreign players and domestic rivals to take control?
While Sadr’s unlikely Marching Towards Reform alliance with Iraq’s communists looks on course to be the biggest group in parliament — it faces many obstacles.
The movement has pitched itself as a challenge to Iraq’s entrenched elite and ridden popular protests over graft to drum up support.
Under article 76 of Iraq’s constitution, the right to form a government falls to the political bloc with the most seats.
Sadr — who has ruled himself out of becoming PM — should be the key powerbroker and is already eyeing a coalition of around a dozen groups to reach a majority.
However, with months of wrangling expected ahead, it remains far from certain that he will get the chance to realise his ambitions.
At elections in 2010, the Iraqi National Movement of Ayad Allawi scooped 91 seats to become the biggest group in parliament. But after much manoeuvring, Allawi was eventually bested by Nuri al Maliki.
Strengthened by his apparent victory in Saturday’s polls, black-turbaned Sadr could now push his nationalist agenda that has seen him pledge to curb foreign meddling in Iraq. After the 2003 invasion, his militia battled US forces. He is now calling for the latest deployment of American troops to leave following last year’s defeat of the IS group.
While his family of religious scholars historically has close ties with the revolutionaries and he spent years living in Iran, Sadr has now fallen out with Tehran. In a sign that he is angling to chart a different course, he visited Saudi Arabia last year.
Sadr faces a difficult act to herd together enough groups from across Iraq’s fragmented political spectrum to form a government.
He has extended a hand to a wide spread of parties — including the bloc of current Prime Minister Haider al Abadi that lies in third place according to latest results.
Whether he can convince Abadi — a key member of the establishment Dawa party that has dominated Iraq for years — to turn his back on his former stablemates and team up remains a major question. Abadi — who came to power in 2014 as IS rampaged across Iraq — has balanced off the foreign powers during his time at the helm. — AFP