Iraq is at one of its most dangerous moments since the 2014 rise of ISIS. Supporters of nationalist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr have taken over parliament and are locked in a standoff with allies of Iran-backed politicians, including former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki and a number of parties with heavily armed militias. How did this happen?
October 2021 Iraq holds early elections, the fifth national vote since the US-led invasion in 2003. But turnout hovers at about 43 per cent after millions of young Iraqis decide to boycott the vote. They are part of a national protest movement that grips the country, with many demanding an early vote and reform of the electoral system. At least 500 are killed, mainly by Iran-linked militia groups tied to powerful Shiite parties in Baghdad.
November 7, 2021 A drone explodes at the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who has been pushing back against the Iran-backed militias, raising the ire of their linked political parties. The Iran-backed parties also perform badly in the national vote and demand a recount, with prominent figures including Nouri Al Maliki and Hadi Al Amiri saying that the result is fraudulent, something UN and EU observers say is false.
December 22, 2021 Iraq’s Supreme Court ratifies the election results after a failed legal challenge by Iran-backed parties. It confirms major gains for Mr Al Sadr and major setbacks for two aligned coalitions linked to Iran, Fatah, led by former militia commander Al Amiri, and State of Law Coalition, led by former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki. Mr Al Amiri said he would respect the “fraudulent” results before warning his movement was losing “our belief in the political process and its democratic path”, and saying there could be “insecurity” ahead. The Iran-backed groups form a new bloc, the Shiite Co-ordination Framework.
January 2022 MPs meet and re-elect Mohamed Al Halbusi, a powerful political figure who governed Anbar province, as parliament speaker. It is another victory for Mr Al Sadr, who backs Mr Al Halbusi. He, like Mr Al Sadr, had voiced his objection to the growing power of Iran-backed militias. Mr Al Halbusi, the Kurdish Democratic Party — the Kurdish region’s largest party — are now in pole position to form the next government, an alliance with the largest number of seats. They need a president to be elected to confirm them as the largest bloc, before they must select a prime minister. The KDP nominates Hoshyar Zebari for the role, based on an informal agreement where the Kurds hold the presidency.
February 2022 The Co-ordination Framework puts pressure on the judiciary to block Mr Zebari from running for president, based on historic corruption allegations. In the Co-ordination Framework's first victory after the October vote, the Supreme Court agrees to remove Mr Zebari’s candidacy.
March 2022 MPs attempt to meet twice in March to elect a president, but the Co-ordination Framework boycotts the vote, meaning that Iraq’s parliament does not make a quorum.
May 2022 Mr Al Sadr suspends his MP’s involvement in parliament and asks the Co-ordination Framework to form the next government. Analysts say Mr Al Sadr’s gambit is based on the knowledge that his rivals cannot muster enough support, for example, winning over Kurdish or Sunni parties or causing MPs aligned to a protest movement to defect. The Co-ordination Framework subsequently fails to build the largest bloc required to form government.
June 12, 2022 Mr Al Sadr stuns observers by withdrawing his 73 MPs from parliament. All duly hand their resignation to parliament speaker Mr Al Halbusi. Iraq is now in a political void but the Co-ordination Framework appears uncertain as to how to continue. Knowing that Mr Al Sadr can mobilise massive street protests — including two that took over parliament and the Green Zone in 2016, Mr Al Amiri suggests returning to negotiations. But Mr Al Maliki, sensing large gains in parliament, pushes for the constitutional next step, which is allowing the runner-up MPs in elections to take the place of those who resign. The Co-ordination Framework gains 63 seats in parliament and is now set to form the next government.
June 23, 2022 Mr Al Sadr accuses Iran-backed groups of pressuring the judiciary to allow them to circumvent the constitution and dominate the political process. “Iran’s arms are trying to exert pressure on other political blocs, whether independents or non-Shiite blocs,” he said, referring to violent intimidation tactics used against Mr Al Sadr’s allies.
July 10, 2022 A leaked recording of former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki — verified to The National as authentic — is released. In the recording, Mr Al Maliki launches into a tirade of insults against Mr Al Sadr and says his supporters are ready for war. Mr Al Sadr condemns Mr Al Maliki’s remarks — which are denied by the former PM, and orders his supporters to protest.
July 25, 2022 The Co-ordination Framework nominates Muhammed Al Sudani, a close ally of Mr Al Maliki, as their prime minister candidate. Mr Al Sadr again calls on supporters to protest.
July 28, 2022 Thousands of Sadrists protesters storm parliament, with security forces putting up weak resistance, seemingly eager to avoid bloodshed. Protesters are called upon by Mr Al Sadr to leave, but return to the Green Zone two days later, setting up camp for a long sit-in. Co-ordination Framework MPs call for a counter-protest. Since both sides have numerous armed supporters, international diplomats and the UN call for immediate de-escalation.
August 1 The Co-ordination Framework organise a counter protest by parliament and Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi's house, but security forces manage to avoid escalation while holding protesters back, after the PM ordered them to refrain from using live bullets. Co-ordination Framework leaders order the protesters to leave the area and the protest disburses by nightfall.