- Supporters of the nationalist Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr forced the Iraqi judiciary to close its doors Tuesday.
- Political turmoil in Iraq has grown stronger after failed elections in October laid bare the schisms among pro and anti-Iranian factions.
- “The two factions vying for control of the Iraqi government are political parties closely aligned with Iran… and the Sadrists, who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of troops. It’s two bad choices,” David Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy for Stand Together, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Iraqis in support of the nationalist opposition forced the judiciary to close its doors Tuesday after they demanded parliament dissolve, deepening divisions in the Iraqi government between pro- and anti-Iranian factions, Reuters reported.
The U.S.-backed caretaker prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi interrupted a diplomatic trip to Egypt and returned to Baghdad Tuesday to dampen tensions and facilitate dialogue between the government’s opposing factions, the government said in a statement. Neither the powerful nationalist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who bears responsibility for the deaths of U.S. troops during the Iraq war, and Kadhimi, whose casual attitude toward Iran has allowed Tehran’s proxies in the state to flourish, present a positive image for the future of democracy and U.S. interests in Iraq, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Disrupting the work of the judicial institution exposes the country to real dangers, stressing that the right to protest is constitutionally guaranteed but with the need to respect state institutions,” Kadhimi said in a statement.
Iraq has operated with no official government, new prime minister or new president for the past 10 months, allowing the disagreements that led to factions’ inability to form a coalition to metastasize, Reuters reported.
Sadr heads the Iraqi parliament’s largest political bloc, but he lost the majority when he failed to form a coalition with Kurdish and Sunni Muslim Arab parties, spurning pro-Iran Shi’a factions after the elections, according to Reuters. Then, in June, Sadr ordered his 73 members of parliament to resign.
The protesters Tuesday sent unspecified threats by SMS to members of the Supreme Judicial Council and Federal Supreme Court in Baghdad, prompting the judiciary to suspend operation, Reuters reported.
“[We] will suspend court sessions as a protest against this unconstitutional behavior and will hold the government and political parties which are backing this move fully responsible for all the results,” the judiciary said in a statement.
رئيس مجلس الوزراء @MAKadhimi يلتقي رئيس تحالف الفتح السيد هادي العامري، وجرى خلال اللقاء التباحث في آخر مستجدات الساحة السياسية العراقية، ومتابعة سير التفاهمات والتقارب بين الكتل السياسية. pic.twitter.com/6ClADyDfTH
— المكتب الإعلامي لرئيس الوزراء 🇮🇶 (@IraqiPMO) August 23, 2022
The judiciary said Sunday it lacked constitutional authority to dissolve parliament during a sit-in by al-Sadr’s supporters at the headquarters, AFP reported.
Sadr has repeatedly urged his followers to occupy parliament, thereby forcing its dissolution and triggering early elections, according to Reuters.
However, Sadr had emerged with a plurality of seats after last year’s elections, F. Gregory Gause III, a leading Middle East scholar at Texas A&M University, told the DCNF. “The ostensible winner of the elections basically blowing up the parliamentary process,” he said.
Iraq’s political turmoil falls against a backdrop of increasing Iranian influence on a country whose governing institutions are largely the result of sustained U.S. investment. Having Sadr, a populist who presents himself as anti-Iran after previously aligning with Tehran, could benefit the U.S.’ counter-Iranian posture in the region, Gause told the DCNF.
“The two factions vying for control of the Iraqi government are political parties closely aligned with Iran… and the Sadrists, who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of troops. It’s two bad choices,” David Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy for Stand Together, told the DCNF.
However, Sadr is “prone to abrupt changes in strategy and overturning the apple cart when he doesn’t get his way,” Gause told the DCNF. “While his overall direction might be good for the U.S., his tactics just contribute to a constant state of crisis.
The Biden administration ended the U.S.’ combat role in Iraq in 2021, leaving a small contingent to train the Iraqi military and support the counter-ISIS campaign.
Iraq has not gone this long without a government since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq overthrew former dictator Saddam Hussein and the U.S. attempted to install a democratic government, Reuters reported. Sadr’s Mehdi Army fought U.S. forces, as well as the Iraq army and rival Shi’a militias, during the invasion.
Iraq will remain “largely corrupt and dysfunctional” under the influence of Iran, Caldwell told the DCNF.
The most likely path will be for Iraq to hold another round of elections as a shortcut out of the crisis, Gause said. Why Sadr would prefer to upend what little is left of the Iraqi government rather than accept the relatively good odds of a parliamentary majority remains a mystery.
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