Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his party to resign last week. But the move is feared to have more consequences than benefits both for Sadr and Iraq.
Last week on Sunday, and after nearly eight months of political turmoil, Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his bloc to withdraw from the parliament.
“If the Sadrist bloc remaining [in parliament] is an obstacle to government formation, then all lawmakers of the bloc are honorably ready to resign from parliament,” said Sadr in a televised speech on Thursday. “My dears in the Sadrist bloc shall write their resignation letter, should be submitted once they are instructed to do so in the upcoming days,” he also added.
The stepdown of all the al-Sadr’s 73 lawmakers marked the largest pull-out in Iraq’s political system since the October election last year. The election was held several months earlier than expected, in response to mass protests that broke out in late 2019. Back then, tens of thousands of Iraqi people filled the country’s streets to protest against corruption, poor services and unemployment.
“We have reluctantly accepted the requests of our brothers and sisters, representatives of the al-Sadr bloc, to resign,” parliament’s speaker Mohammed al-Halboussi said on Twitter a few hours after receiving resignation letters from the block’s lawmakers.
According to Iraqi laws, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number votes in their electoral district would replace them.
This would benefit al-Sadr’s opponents from the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties, and their allies – something al-Sadr would be unlikely to accept.
Why did Sadr make such a surprising move?
What Sadr did last week to order his party to unanimously resign from the parliament seems to be nothing less than a political suicide.
It was so because leaving so many seats vacant in the parliament will give the Coordination Framework somewhere between 120 and 130 seats, enough to lead the government-formation process. But is Sadr so naïve to let his party’s arch enemy take the seats in the parliament so easily?
The answer is a big ‘NO’.
If the Framework can manage to successfully use this majority in the parliament and put together a new government, it would likely be weak and dysfunctional.
This is particularly true because proponents of the Sadrist movement constitute a large part of the Iraqi society.
It is therefore feared that the new government will repeat the usual failures of previous national unity governments, with poor public services, lack of economic opportunity, more corruption, and huge unemployment.
Sadr is very well aware of the fact that a Shia-dominated government without the Sadrists will plunge into trouble and this can lead to the old story of street protests.
To put it in a nutshell, the Coordination Framework will very much be able to form the new government in Iraq, but without the support from Sadr, his party, and millions of Iraqi people who are devoted to their Shi’ite cleric leader, the new government will surely not endure.
However, the Sadrists’ biggest nightmare may be lying at the very moment when they think they are closer than ever to the “moment of victory”. In fact, what Sadr and his party are ignoring is that most non-Sadrist protesters want to overthrow the whole political system in Iraq. This is while the Sadrists’ goal is to get rid of Shia political rivals and take the power in their own hands, something in which the majority of the people in Iraq have no interest.