Political earthquake in Iraq threatens to thwart Iran's plans

Firebrand anti-Iran control cleric emerging as winner of Iraqi elections.

Yochanan Visser ,

Moqtada al-Sadr
Moqtada al-Sadr

Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authored a book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva.

Iran’s Iraq project is in danger now that a Shiite cleric (sic) is surprisingly emerging as the big winner in the country’s first election since the rise and defeat of Islamic State.

After Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) released preliminary results of the May 12 election it appeared the Sa’iroun list of the maverick Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was emerging as the winner with the Iran-backed Badr (Conquest) Party, which is in fact a paramilitary organization, in second place.

Al-Sadr’s Sa’iroun list (marching towards reform in English) consisted of an odd coalition of his Shiite supporters, secularists and the Iraqi Communist Party.

The IEHC reported on Wednesday Sa’iroun won in 6 of Iraq’s 18 provinces while the final results will be released later on Thursday.

After the news of his unexpected win broke al-Sadr made clear he would not form a government coalition with the Badr Party and with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Miliki.

This drew the ire of Iran which announced prior to the Iraqi election it would not allow “liberals (secularists) and communists” to govern Iraq.

The Islamic Republic immediately dispatched Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to Bagdad in an attempt to form a new cabinet that would have the approval of the Mullahs in Tehran.

Soleimani is a friend of Hadi al-Ameri the leader of the Badr Party who was Tehran’s preferred candidate to form a new Iraqi government.

Al-Ameri is also one of the commanders of the Hash al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq which was integrated in the Iraqi army at the end of 2016 and was more than instrumental in winning the war against ISIS in the country.

Soleimani is trying to reach consensus about the forming of a Shi’ite dominated coalition, according to an Iraqi official who serves as an intermediary between al-Sadr and other factions.

The firebrand cleric is against Iran’s growing dominance over Iraq and campaigned on a nationalist platform which tapped into growing public discontent with the corrupt political establishment in the country.

Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi militia also fought the U.S. army during the American occupation of Iraq, reacted strongly against Iran’s meddling in internal Iraqi affairs and announced on social media he "rejected any foreign intervention in the efforts to form a new government."

In another message he announced he would work with others to form a government “as long as they are not occupiers of our country, both for occupation and for domination."

Soleimani is now trying to form a coalition without Sadr, who hates the Iranians, and works to isolate the Shi’ite cleric but chances are slim he will succeed, according to insiders in Iraqi political affairs.

Al-Sadr on the other hand, is calling upon other factions to meet with him and said his door was open and his hands extended to “ build our Iraq and form a government of honest and patriarchal technocrats."

The question is now what Iran will do when al-Sadr succeeds to form a government without the Badr Party thereby thwarting Tehran’s plan to turn Iraq into another client state in the Middle East.

The first indication of what might be coming was the bombing of two offices belonging to the Sadr organization and other Shiite groups which are aligned to the Iraqi cleric.

“One bomb exploded at an office of the Saraya al-Salam or military wing of the Sadrist movement. The other bomb struck at an office belonging to a religious organization, Malek al-Ashtar, linked to the Sadrists,” the well informed Anti-War blog reported on Wednesday.

No casualties were reported since the offices were empty at the time of the bombings.

The United States, meanwhile, reacted positively to the preliminary results of the election in Iraq.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was glad the election had been peaceful and said the fact that the voting had been “relatively free of violence is certainly a pretty amazing feat.”

Nauert said she was confident the Iraqis were “likely to have to form some sort of coalition government,” and indicated the State Department wasn’t much concerned by Iran’s openly meddling in the forming of a government in the war-torn country.

“Iran’s reach” into other countries is “always a concern of ours,” Nauert said adding that the U.S. has “a great deal of trust and faith in the Iraqi people.”