Iraqi political rivals meet in effort to end impasse in forming government

But Moqtada Al Sadr's political bloc said it would not attend, as tension grows after 10 months of deadlock

Iraqi leaders met in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss the formation of a government. Photo: Iraq Prime Minister's Office
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Rival Iraqi political leaders met on Wednesday in an attempt to find a way out of a 10-month impasse over forming a new government.

This comes amid fears that the current stand-off could turn violent, as tension runs high between opposing political blocs.

However, the Sadrist Movement, a major political group sponsored by Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr, had said it would not take part in the meeting.

Followers of Mr Al Sadr last month breached Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, occupied the parliament building and staged a sit-in.

Iraq held early elections on October 10 in response to one of the core demands of a nationwide, pro-reform protest movement that erupted in 2019 in central and southern parts of the country.

The elections were the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Since then, bitter rivalry among political elites, mainly among the country’s majority Shiites, has delayed the process of forming a government. With the Shiites divided, there are fears that Iraq could slide into intra-sectarian strife.

On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi invited political leaders to attend a national dialogue at the government palace in the Green Zone on Wednesday.

The meeting was meant to kick start a “serious national dialogue and joint thinking in order to find the needed solutions to the current political crisis”, Mr Al Kadhimi said.

He called for de-escalation “to give enough room for moderate proposals within the national debate”.

The Sadrist Movement did not give details on why it was not taking part in the meeting.

It has proven capable of mobilising millions of followers, mainly from impoverished areas in Iraq's Shiite south and suburbs of Baghdad.

Hadi Al Amiri, who leads the Badr Organisation — one of the most influential parties in the Co-ordination Framework, Mr Al Sadr's rival Shiite bloc — was attending as the head of framework, according to MP Ahmed Al Asadi.

The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and the Head of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, Faiq Zaidan were also attending.

Representatives of other political parties were due to attend the meeting but the level of their participation was not clear. Iraqi President Barham Salih and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbouri also attended.

Mr Al Sadr wants to dissolve Parliament and hold snap elections.

After the meeting, a statement from Al Kadhimi's office said the attendees called for de-escalations and expressed their commitment to reaching solutions to the political crisis, prioritising the maintainance of peace among Iraqis.

It didn't rule out holding early elections as a means to end the crisis but, said they must be based on the constitution.

"The attendees indicated that resorting to the ballot box once again through early elections is not an unprecedented in the history of democracies," the statement said.

"When the political crises reach a dead end, national political parties resort to constitutional courses in regard to elections," it added.

They agreed on continuing the national dialogue in order and to reach a "legal and constitutional map to address the current crisis," it said.

Following his inability to form a new government after emerging with the biggest bloc in the elections — with 73 seats in the 329-seat Parliament — Mr Al Sadr in June ordered his MPs to resign.

He blamed the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework for hindering his efforts to form a government through lawsuits and boycotts of parliamentary sessions.

After Mr Al Sadr's supporters stormed the parliamentary building, tensions rose further when the Co-ordination Framework launched counter-protests and a sit-in in another part of the Green Zone, accusing the Shiite leader of staging a coup.

The Green Zone is home to key government buildings including the Cabinet and the Parliament, as well as foreign embassies and senior politicians' residencies.

The Co-ordination Framework, which consists of influential Tehran-backed militias and political parties, wants to set conditions and is demanding a new transitional government before new polls.

In an attempt to put pressure on rivals, Mr Al Sadr last week demanded the country's judiciary dissolve Parliament by the end of this week and set a date for early elections or face unspecified consequences.

But that request was rejected by the Supreme Judicial Council on Sunday. The court said it had no power to dissolve Parliament.

According to the Iraqi constitution, a vote passed by an absolute majority is required to dissolve Parliament, and that vote can be requested only by a third of MPs or by the prime minister, with the president's approval.

Mr Al Sadr argues that his request was based on missing the constitutional deadlines for appointing a new president and prime minister being missed. He also asked his supporters to file lawsuits over the issue with the Supreme Federal Court.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Federal Court is looking into a lawsuit filed in May by the independent Waie Movement based on the same argument for dissolving Parliament.

The court was supposed to issue its verdict on Wednesday, but has delayed it until August 30.

Updated: August 17, 2022, 4:26 PM