SAT 15 - 12 - 2018
May 18, 2018
The Daily Star
Iran’s Soleimani holds talks about future Iraqi Cabinet
BAGHDAD: Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani is holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new Iraqi Cabinet which would have Iran’s approval, two people familiar with the political process underway in Iraq said Wednesday. Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, arrived in Iraq Saturday, the day of the parliamentary elections.
Initial nationwide results showed a surprise victory for the bloc that supports populist religious scholar Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite not aligned with Iran who campaigned on a nationalist platform, tapping into public resentment against widespread corruption and huge social disparities.
But analysts said the reality of Iraq’s complex political system and the sway still held by neighboring Iran mean he faces a fight to oversee the running of a country still reeling from a brutal conflict against Daesh (ISIS). Fanar Haddad, an Iraq analyst at the University of Singapore, said it was “mathematically, legally and constitutionally” possible for Sadr’s rivals to form a coalition government without members of his victorious Marching Towards Reform alliance.
Soleimani is holding talks with rival politicians to pave the way for an agreement to form a Shiite ruling coalition, said a person acting as an intermediary between Sadr, other senior politicians and a Shiite candidate.
Formal talks to set up a governing coalition will start after the announcement of the final results, expected later this week.
Before the election, Iran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc – an unlikely alliance of Shiites, communists and other secular groups – to govern.
Sadr has made clear he is unwilling to compromise with Iran by forming a coalition with its main allies, Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr paramilitary group, and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
He called instead for a technocratic government that can begin to tackle Iraq’s rampant corruption and the mammoth rebuilding task left from the battle against Daesh.
Sadr is one of the few Iraqi politicians opposed to both the presence of American troops and the heavy influence that neighboring Iran exercises over Iraq.
A tally by Reuters of provincial results announced over the past three days shows Sadr’s list leading, followed by Amiri, a close ally of Iran and a friend of Soleimani, and then outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Abadi managed to rally the support of both Iran and the United States during Iraq’s three-year war on Daesh.
Saturday’s election was the first since the defeat last year of the militants who had overran a third of Iraq in 2014.
Soleimani’s Quds Force is the main foreign backer of Amiri’s Badr, which served as the backbone of Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, a volunteers force set up to fight Daesh.
Since Monday, the powerful Iranian general has met with several members of Iraq’s old guard including Abadi and his predecessor Maliki, several officials told AFP. He also held talks with Amiri.
According to the officials, Soleimani again ruled out any alliance with Sadr, who surprised many last year by visiting Iran’s regional foe Saudi Arabia as Riyadh seeks increased involvement in Iraq.
A spokesman for Maliki told AFP that the former premier is looking to form a parliamentary bloc with “several major players, including the Conquest Alliance, Sunni and Shiite parties and the Kurds.”
“Iran wants to exert pressure so that these two forces [Amiri and Maliki] are at the negotiating table,” said analyst Haddad.
While speculation swirls, the next concrete step remains completing the vote count and firming up the final makeup of Iraq’s new 329-seat Parliament.
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