73 Iraqi lawmakers resign to end country’s political deadlock

Iran will try to take advantage of the maneuver which likely will make its allies the new majority in the country’s parliament, an expert said.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks in Najaf, Iraq May 17, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALAA AL-MARJANI)
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks in Najaf, Iraq May 17, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALAA AL-MARJANI)

The largest party in Iraq’s parliament resigned in a joint move led by the party’s leader, the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Seventy-three out of the 329 members of the country’s parliament presented their resignation letters to the parliamentary speaker, Mohammed al-Halboussi, on Sunday.

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Iraq has remained in political deadlock eight months after parliamentary elections; a government has not been formed due to sharp divisions among the political factions, which has prevented the body from electing a president.

Sadr describes himself as in opposition to both Iran and the United States. As the largest party in the parliament, the Sadrist party has attempted to form a government that would leave out the Iran-backed parties which have ruled the country for several years. This has not been possible for the last several months.

Sadr, in a statement released on Sunday, called the mass resignation “a sacrifice from me for the country and the people to rid them of the unknown fate,” by providing a space for a new government to be formed and to end the political deadlock.

Romy Nasr, a MENA conflict analyst and stabilization adviser based in Iraq, says that opinions differ on this step and its repercussions on the political process.

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attend Friday prayers in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq July 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attend Friday prayers in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq July 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)

Sadr's intentions unclear

“Sadr in the street is stronger than in the parliament and the government, ... this may spark widespread protests that could be more violent and geographically broader.”

Romy Nasr, MENA conflict analyst, stabilization adviser

She noted that Sadr’s intentions are not clear, nor is it clear whether the move “would be in the interest of stabilizing the political situation or would it deepen the crisis in Iraq.”

Nasr told The Media Line that the situation is uncertain, “especially since Sadr’s decisions change constantly resulting in popular and political anxiety.”

According to Iraqi law, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who received the second-highest number of votes in his electoral district would assume it.

Most of the 73 parliamentary seats left vacant by Sadrists will be filled by the party’s main opponents, the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies.

This could be a delicate situation, explained Nasr, since “Sadr in the street is stronger than in the parliament and the government, and this time the Tishreen (October 2019 uprising) parties will be supporting them; however, this may spark widespread protests that could be more violent and geographically broader.”

Khoshnaw, a civil activist and an independent security technical specialist from Kurdistan, told The Media Line that if a new government is formed, “most see keeping Mustafa Al-Kadhimi as prime minister as the best solution to avoid conflicts.” Kadhimi has served as prime minister since May 2020.

Khoshnaw said that “great attempts will be made to satisfy the supreme Shiite authorities and gradually isolate Muqtada al-Sadr and his allies, as they pose a threat to their long-term continuity.”

Nasr says that if the next government is formed without the Sadrist movement, “it will be extremely fragile, threatened by the Sadrists’ ability to mobilize the masses and their repertoire of the accumulated protest experience.”

However, she noted that the country’s political destiny is yet to be defined.

The coming days and weeks will determine if the political parties under the SCF will have enough seats to form a government on their own or if they will still need support from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Al-Siyada Alliance, the largest Sunni coalition, to form a new government.

Khoshnaw says that the Iranian-backed parties and their allies will make up the largest bloc in the wake of the resignations. He adds that if the Kurds and Sunnis continue to be allies, they may contribute by being the  government opposition unless they also decide to withdraw.

He stresses that no matter what the result of these events and what kind of government is formed, it will certainly not represent the Iraqi people.

“Most of the Iraqis did not participate in the elections and basically do not recognize the upcoming government, whether it is formed or not,” Khoshnaw said.

Barın Kayaoğlu, assistant professor of world history at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, told The Media Line that he believes Sadr has a deep-rooted plan behind the resignation.

Sadr is a smart politician, he said. “He’s playing the long game. By floating the possibility of getting his deputies to resign, he plans to further underline the dysfunction in Iraq’s federal institutions,” according to Kayaoğlu.

The move could have the opposite effect to what Sadr claimed that he aimed to do. “Perhaps Sadr’s actual intended effect: Deepen the political deadlock and then lead to new federal elections with better numbers for Sadrists,” Kayaoğlu said.

Nasr believes that Iran has a different plan, spurred on by the Islamic Republic’s allies becoming a majority in Iraq’s parliament.

For now, she said, “I think Iran will try to take advantage of Sadr’s move while containing him as this will allow them to reap political dividends while preserving a weaker Sadr.”

She concluded that the situation is complicated, and the political factions are sharply divided. “This political stalemate can inflame tensions in a country that’s still got lots of heavily armed factions out there,” she warned.