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Analysis-Iraqi voters spurn Iran’s allies, but Tehran could still fight for clout By Reuters


© Reuters. A young girl stands near a sign depicting Moqtada al-Sadr the Iraqi Shi’ite Moslem cleric, who was the largest winner in initial elections results in Baghdad on October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Wissam Al-Okaili

Ahmed Rasheed, John Davison

BAGHDAD (Reuters – Iraqi voters delivered a sharp rebuke Iran’s allies at an election this Week. But loosening Shi’ite militia control of the State will continue to be a politically delicate goal. There is always the risk of violence in the background.

Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr was the main winner. He is a populist and has made himself a strong opponent to both Iran, as well as the United States.

Sadr called the outcome a “victory of the people over… militias”. It was an exhilarating moment for his followers.

Yousef Mohammad, 21, a Sadr City resident and unemployed in Baghdad’s huge Sadr City declared that “the most important thing about this election is the fact foreign countries such as Iran didn’t interfere” We’ve been celebrating ever since last night.”

Sadr’s bloc will be the largest within the 329-seat parliament. This is up from 54. The main competitor, Fatah, which is made up of pro-Tehran factions, had its representation in parliament drop to 14 from 48.

A Sunni Muslim group that was unusually united placed second. This gave the minor sect its greatest leverage since Saddam Hussein’s fall. Even reformist groups that were upstarts managed to defeat established parties, and a bloc led by a pharmacist emerged with ten seats.

There are signs, however that Tehran still has a strong grip on the country. Notably, the former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki was a close friend of Iran and campaigned for law and order. She came in third with 37 seats.

According to a Western diplomat, Esmail Ghaani was the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and was still looking for a way that Tehran’s allies would remain in power.

“According to our information, Ghaani was attending a meeting with (Shi’ite militia parties) yesterday. “They will do everything they can to attempt to organise a largest bloc – even though that will be extremely difficult with Sadr’s power,” said the Western diplomat.

Ghaani was not in Iraq when Tehran and Baghdad publicly denied it, but two Iranian sources contacted to confirm this by Reuters.

According to at least one pro Iran militia commander, the militias were ready to use violence to protect their power after what they consider a fraud election.

“For now, we’ll be using legal frameworks. He said that if we are unsuccessful, we will have to take to the streets to do the exact same thing as during the protests: burn the party buildings.”

PROXY BATTLEFIELD

Since 2003, Iraq was a proxy battleground for Iran and the United States. This invasion toppled Saddam Hussein and gave rise to a Shi’ite majority that is led by people Tehran has courted for many decades.

Washington and Tehran felt they were on opposite sides when Iraqi fighters captured a third of Iraq in 2014.

However, Iran won the war against Islamic State in 2017. With control of large swathes of Iraqi State, militias linked to Iran emerged.

In 2019, hundreds of thousands took to the streets, mostly young Iraqis, to protest corruption and joblessness. 600 people were shot dead by the security forces and militia. This week, the government forced an Iranian Prime Minister to resign.

Sadr, the son of revered clergymen, was first led an uprising by Shi’ites against U.S. colonialism and later, campaigned against Iranian control.

Although he was reluctant to play a major role in the governing coalitions of his country, his supporters have quietly seized control over ministries and industries under governments led by Shi’ite groups, many with close ties to Tehran.

However, most Iraq’s Shiite political class remains hostile or suspicious to Sadr. This includes commanders and officers of security forces that fought Sadr’s followers in the past. Maliki was the prime minister of a campaign that took Baghdad and southern cities from Sadr more than 10 years ago.

Hamdi Malik of the Washington Institute is a specialist in Iraq’s Shi’ite militias. He said that Maliki spent lots of money on campaigning, and appealed to nostalgia within the armed forces. This helped him portray himself as strong leader.

Officials from the Badr party (long a pro-Iran faction) stated that one reason for the low showing by the Fatah militia bloc was because supporters switched their votes to Maliki as they saw him as an effective bulwark against Sadr.

Official said that Maliki had already shown he could stand up against Sadr.



Mike Robinson
Mike covers the financial, utilities and biotechnology sectors for Street Register. He has been writing about investment and personal finance topics for almost 12 years. Mike has an MBA in Finance from Wake Forest University.