Iraqi election winner meets with pro-Iran rivals after push to annul election

Meeting between Muqtada al-Sadr and leaders of Iranian-backed militias follows top court’s dismissal of the latter’s fraud claims

Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil, File)
Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil, File)

NAJAF, Iraq — The winner of Iraq’s October parliamentary election, Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, met Wednesday with rivals from the pro-Iran former paramilitary alliance Hashed al-Shaabi ahead of the opening of parliament.

The October 10 vote was rejected by the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Tehran Hashed, but Iraq’s top court on Monday dismissed their allegations of voter fraud and ratified the results.

It paves the way for parliament to meet and elect a president — who will then name a prime minister tasked with forming a new government.

On Wednesday, leaders including Fatah Alliance chief Hadi al-Ameri, senior Hashed official Faleh al-Fayyad and Qais al-Khazali, head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq force — a key component of the Hashed — were hosted by Sadr at his home in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf, according to state news agency INA.

The leaders discussed “the political situation” and the “formation of the next government,” INA reported.

Al-Sadr, a political maverick and former anti-US militia leader who opposes all foreign interference, had already met leaders from pro-Iran parties earlier this month.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and leader of the Fatah Alliance, a coalition of Iranian-supported militias, speaks during a campaign rally in Baghdad on May 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Iraq is trying to recover from years of war and jihadist violence, but remains hobbled by political divisions, corruption and poverty.

Parties from Iraq’s Shiite majority have previously struck compromise deals to work together, but Sadr is insistent he wants to forge a coalition capable of forming a parliamentary majority.

Al-Sadr’s movement won more than a fifth of the seats, 73 out of the assembly’s total of 329. The Fatah Alliance took 17 seats, sharply down from its 48 seats in the past assembly, and Hashed leaders rejected the result.

Al-Sadr, a self-styled defender against all forms of corruption, has repeatedly said that the next prime minister will be chosen by his movement. The scion of an influential clerical family who led a militia against the US-led occupation of Iraq, al-Sadr has distinguished himself from other Shiite factions by seeking to distance himself from both Iranian and US influences.

Iraq’s supreme court on Monday rejected a motion filed by the Hashed al-Shaabi contesting its defeat in the October 10 parliamentary election.

While the ruling is a key step forward, it does not mean that the final results have been ratified, an electoral commission lawyer who attended the court hearing said. That requires an official announcement to endorse the results, only after which can the new parliament be inaugurated and a new government formed.

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, the formation of governments has often involved complex negotiations ever since 2003.

Al-Sadr was declared on November 30 as the biggest winner of the election, a result which Hashed leaders rejected as a “fraud.” The Hashed organized protests and appealed the results hoping to have them annulled, claiming “serious violations.”

Illustrative: Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary fighters stand guard during a funerary procession in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, October 26, 2019. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

The Fatah Alliance alleged the electronic voting system had failed to recognize the finger print identification of many voters. It also protested at what is claimed were the alleged failings of a new electronic machine used for the election.

Once parliament holds its inaugural session, lawmakers will elect a president, who will in turn appoint a prime minister to be approved by the legislature.

Al-Sadr had previously called on the country’s pro-Iran Shiite armed factions to disband if they want to join his upcoming government.

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