Iraq's Al Sadr backs national majority government after meeting Iran's IRGC head

Talks over formation of a government continue months after election

Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr says he wants a government of national unity.  AP
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An earlier version of this story has been corrected to more accurately reflect comments made by Moqtada Al Sadr.

Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who won last year's election, has called for a national majority government after his meeting with a top Iranian general on Wednesday.

Mr Al Sadr's comments on the formation of the next Cabinet come after he met with Brig Gen Esmail Ghaani, the head of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, in Al Hananah near the holy city of Najaf.

“Neither eastern nor western, a national majority government,” Mr Al Sadr wrote on Twitter after the meeting.

Pictures circulated on social media showing Mr Al Sadr, a strong advocate for an independent Iraq, wearing a scarf in the national colours around his neck after the meeting.

epa08113903 A handout photo made available by Iran's Supreme Leader Office shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Lieutenant General and newly appointed Commander of the Quds Force Esmail Ghaani attending a mourning ceremony for slain IRGC Quds force chief Qasem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, 09 January 2020. A US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, on 03 January 2020 in Baghdad, Iraq.  EPA/IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER OFFICE HAN  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Mr Al Sadr's political bloc emerged from October's election as the largest faction, with 73 of the 329 seats in Parliament. However, Mr Al Sadr fell short of taking a majority allowing him to pick the Cabinet of his choice and instead needs the backing of others to reach the 165 seats to endorse the new government.

A rift has emerged in recent weeks with Shiite political rivals after the first parliamentary session on January 9, when Mr Al Sadr united with Sunni and Kurdish parties to return the incumbent Speaker, Mohammed Al Halbousi, to his post as well as vote on his deputies.

The move angered the pro-Iran camp, which includes influential Shiite militias that boycotted the session and later issued threats against Sunnis and Kurds. Mr Al Halbousi's home later came under rocket fire.

This week, a session to elect the new president was postponed after too few MPs attended to reach a quorum. There remains a dispute between the political parties over the nominees.

Brig Gen Ghaani is the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the arm of the revolutionary guard that is responsible for military and clandestine operations outside the country. It controls and works closely with proxy militias and armed allies from Lebanon to Yemen as well as political groups to further Tehran's regional influence.

His visits to Iraq, where there are dozens of militias and armed groups close to Iran, are frequent, although not usually announced publicly.

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iran has built a significant influence in Shiite majority Iraq through powerful militias, political allies and cultural outreach.

Brig Gen Ghaani had already held talks with Mr Al Sadr’s rivals in the Shiite Co-ordination Framework in an attempt to bridge gaps between the sides and elect a new government.

Updated: February 10, 2022, 6:52 PM
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