Iraq’s Al Sadr bloc resignation complicates political stalemate

Move by MPs is sign that solving eight-month long impasse over forming government is becoming more complex

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr's decision to stand down his bloc's MPs absolves him of efforts to form a government. Reuters
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The resignation of the Sadrist bloc of MPs in Iraq, a powerful political group that is sponsored by the populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, casts further doubt on the process of forming a government.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi said that Mr Al Sadr has chosen to go into opposition and other parties will continue efforts to form the government.

Iraq’s political scene has been in a state of deadlock since the October national elections. Since then, rivals have failed to reach a power-sharing deal and form a government.

Mr Al Sadr ordered his MPs to submit their resignations, calling the decision “a sacrifice from me for the country and the people to rid them of the unknown destiny”.

“The scene is becoming more complex,” columnist Ahmed Abdul-Hussein wrote in the Al Sabah newspaper on Monday.

“The options after the Sadrists' resignation will be likely to lead to deepening the impasse,” Abdul-Hussein said.

Despite the Sadrists making a strong showing in the elections, winning 73 seats in the 329-seat Parliament, Mr Al Sadr failed to form a government.

His desire to form a majority government only with the winners among Sunni and Kurdish parties irritated his Co-ordination Framework rivals, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias and parties who suffered a major blow in the elections.

They want Mr Al Sadr to team up only with them to form a wider Shiite bloc to negotiate and form a government based on consensus and divide the posts according to their sects.

Last month, Mr Al Sadr acknowledged that he had failed to form a new government. On Thursday, he asked his bloc to prepare resignation letters.

On Sunday night, he ordered Hassan Al Ethari, the head of the bloc, to submit the resignations Mr Al Halbousi.

Few hours later, a video showed Mr Al Halbousi sitting at his desk with a stack of papers. He then wrote the word: “Accept” in red ink. Mr Al Ethari sat opposite.

“We have grudgingly accepted the requests of our brothers and sisters, lawmakers of the Sadrist bloc, to resign,” Mr Al Halbousi said.

According to the elections law, the resigned MPs will be replaced by the candidate who won the highest number of votes after him in his constituency, Emad Al Jumaili, a member of the Independent High Election Commission, told The National.

IHEC has not received any letter from the Parliament about this and it is not clear how this will affect the seats, Mr Al Jumaili said.

In a press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Amman on Monday, Mr Al Halbousi told reporters that there will be a “political impact” as the “the presence of the Sadrist bloc in the political process is important”.

“As far as I discussed with him, he (Al Sadr) believes in a majority and an opposition. A last choice [for Al Sadr] was to go to the opposition,” he said.

He added that the option for calling for new elections is not on the table at the moment and that efforts to form a government are continuing.

Once the process of replacing Sadrist politicians is completed as the law demands, other “steps will be followed and the political impasse will not stay”. He did not give more details or a time frame.

Parliament went in a month-long summer recess in May.

Abdul-Hussein believed that there will be short- and long-term effects.

“The immediate impact is making the Co-ordination Framework a de facto majority inside the Parliament and taking the burden from the Sadrists,” he said.

The move was also intended to “free” Mr Al Sadr from the responsibility of forming a government and not to be seen as involved in the impasse, Abdul-Hussein said.

Only one of two options is available in the long term, he said.

“Either a government without Sadrists and that will be a fragile government threatened by the Sadrists ability to move the street … or early elections.”

Khaled Yacoub Oweis contributed reporting from Amman.

Updated: June 13, 2022, 12:50 PM