Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 539, 4 August 2022

Iraq: The escalating political crisis
Rashmi Ramesh

In the news
On 30 July, protestors rallying in support of Shia leader Muqtada al- Sadr, breached the heavily fortified Green Zone and stormed Iraq's Parliament for the second time in a week. The protestors opposed the candidacy of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the pro-Iran Shia Coordination Framework's candidate for the prime minister's post.
 
The incident resulted in clashes, stone pelting, tear gas firing, and more than 125 people, including protestors and the police are reportedly injured. The UN Mission in Iraq called for de-escalation and said that the "voices of reason and wisdom are critical to prevent further violence."
 
On 1 August, al-Sadr's supporters were countered by Coordination Framework's and al-Sudani's supporters who held demonstrations in the latter's favour. On the same day, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called on the protestors to evacuate the Parliament and participate in a "national dialogue" involving all the parties and "draw a road map for a solution."
 
Issues at large
First, the failure to form a government. Al-Sadr's Sadrist Movement won 74 seats in the October 2021 elections, emerging as the largest faction in the 329-seat Parliament. He failed to secure a 2/3rds majority and was unable to form the government, paving the way for a political deadlock. After nearly eight months of failing to form the government, al-Sadr made his 74 legislators resign but warned of political pressure through possible mass demonstrations in support of his candidature. The protests now have prevented the Parliament from convening and choosing the Prime Minister and President.
 
Second, Iran's role. Tehran has taken advantage of the Shia centrism in Iraq and aims to further its interest by uniting the Shiite parties and backing the Popular Mobilization Front. In other words, Iran has positioned itself to be an influential external power in post-war Iraq, using the relationship it shares with the Shia political outfits.
 
Third, nationalist sentiment in Iraq. The Sadrist Movement gains its popularity by seeking to detangle Iraq from the American influence, Iran's strong influence in political matters, separating itself from the pro-Iran Shia factions, and representing different sects such as Sunnis and the Kurds. The support for al-Sadr emerges from the poorer sections of the population, southern Iraq's Shia heartland, and working-class people in Baghdad.
 
In perspective
First, the political situation in Iraq since the war. Post2003, the political landscape of Iraq has been dominated by sectarian competition and rivalry between the Shias and Sunnis, with an increasing Shia-centric rebuilding. The protestors have now called for a change in the existing political system which distributes power based on sect and party and is believed to be the root cause of corruption and lack of tangible progress in the post-war years.
 
Second, a political crisis in the region. Political deadlocks, inability to form stable governments and demand for reforms are plaguing the Middle East. Israel is headed towards the fifth election in four years after the Parliament was dissolved following the collapse of the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Neftali Bennett. Currently, Yair Lapid is the caretaker prime ministeruntil the elections are scheduled in October. Lebanon is in the midst of a serious political and economic crisis, with the government formation process still being a point of disagreement between prime minister Najib Mikati and president Michael Aoun. A section of the population in Palestine is rallying, demanding political reforms, and a formation of a functioning cabinet, ending the one-man presidential rule by Mahmoud Abbas. With Iraq's crisis escalating, the region suffers from another backslide.
 
Third, the snowballing into a bigger crisis. Political issues, coupled with economic woes have led to a crisis in countries like Sri Lanka, Chile, Lebanon, and now Iraq. While a direct comparison of the situation in these countries would be unfair, given that the background and trigger points were different, and the direction of Iraqi protests is yet to be known completely, the base of the crisis lies in policy misappropriation. It is yet to be seen if Iraq sees this as a starting point of a snowballing movement demanding structural changes in the system.

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