The populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has claimed victory in the Iraqi legislative elections last Sunday. According to the Iraqi state news agency INA, his group, the bloc sadrista, it has won 73 of the 329 seats in the new Parliament. Even more significant: their rivals from the Al Fateh (Conquest) coalition, which groups together several pro-Iranian parties, have remained only at 14. The militias that support them have denounced fraud this Tuesday and are threatening an armed response, even before they the Electoral Commission announce the official results.
Al Sadr, who was not a candidate, is at the forefront of the only genuinely popular movement to emerge after the 2003 US invasion, whose troops he fought. Since then, he has reinforced his nationalist message by broadening his opposition to any foreign influence – including that of neighboring Iran – and trying to present himself as a reformist who can fulfill the demands of the protest movement (Tischrin). It is not clear that he has much support outside of the more modest layers of the Shiite Arab community.
In his speech Monday night, Al Sadr said that the next government “is going to give priority to the interests of Iraq.” What seems obvious is worrying for the pro-Iranian formations, whose defeat has been humiliating: they have lost 33 seats compared to 2018, reflecting the fed up of the Iraqis with the interference of Iran in their country. The nervousness that this result has caused is reflected in the unexpected visit to Baghdad on Monday by the head of the expeditionary force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Ismael Ghaani.
Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the main pro-Iranian militias, has rejected the election results. In a statement, its leader, Abu Ali al Askari, urges the Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP, the umbrella that groups all the militias) to be ready to defend their “sacred entity”. He also asks the political parties to solve “the stolen votes.” His words would be a tantrum if they did not come from a powerful armed group with a long history of intimidation and attacks, which the United States and other countries consider a terrorist organization.
To the irritation of the militias, Al Sadr defended in his speech that “the state must have a monopoly on the use of weapons.” In addition, he hinted that he was willing to maintain good relations with Washington as long as he did not interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq or in the formation of the Government. Such a possibility is anathema to pro-Iranian groups, which pride themselves on being the spearhead of “resistance” to the United States and often act against this country on behalf of Iran.
The 73 seats won by the sadristas They are a significant advance over the 54 who also placed them in first position in the previous Parliament, but they are still insufficient to govern. Alliances are complicated. In second place, with 41 deputies, is the Sunni block Taqadum (Progress), led by the current president of Parliament, Mohamed al Halbusi. In 2018, Al Halbusi allied himself with the political wing of the pro-Iranian militias, although his pragmatism suggests that he is open to other possibilities. And third, the State of Law of former Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, who gets along like cat and dog with Al Sadr.
Join EL PAÍS now to follow all the news and read without limits
It remains to be seen what role the new parties and the independents that emerged from the October 2019 protests could play. Despite the high abstention rate (only 41% of registered voters voted, according to the Electoral Commission, which is equivalent to 34 % of potential voters), several of them have won seats. Imtidad, led by activist Alaa al Rikaabi, will have a dozen deputies.
Follow all the international information at Facebook and Twitter, o en our weekly newsletter.