Iraqi Nationalism returns as Muqtada el-Sadr leads the winning party in the parliamentary election

Along with victories for Ennahda in Tunisia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now the Sadrist alliance in Iraq, a nationalist reaction happening in elections in Arab countries, whose politics have been riven by increased foreign interference driving sectarian and factional differences, ever since the Arab Spring, to scupper the Arab dream of freedom.

On the Move” (al-Sa’iroun) or the “Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform” (54 seats*), headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, comprising the Sadrist Movement and the Communist Party wins the most seats, possibly as much as a third. This result will put the US’s nose out of joint.

The Iran-backed “Conquest Alliance” or “Fatah Alliance”, headed by Hadi al-Amiri (47 seats*), comprising the popular base of the Haashd el-Shaabi  militias and some Sunni groups, comes second, while the US-backed Haidar al-Abadi‘s “Victory Alliance” or “Tahaluf el-Nasr” comes third (42 seats*).

All three leading groups are cross-sectarian, which augurs a major improvement in the nature of Iraqi politics. The other Iranian-backed party, “State of Law coalition” run by Nouri al-Maliki is really no longer in the running (26 seats*), although it is a potential coalition partner with the Conquest Alliance, coming equal fourth with the Kurdish Democratic Party (26 seats*). Iyad Allawi‘s National Alliance or “al-Wataniyya” (the party closest to US interests) comes fifth (22 seats*); Ammar el-Hakim, ex-ally of el-Abadi, and his National Wisdom Movement come sixth (19 seats*); The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan comes seventh (18 seats*); and the Sunni Uniters for Reform Coalition or “Decision Alliance” come eighth (14 seats*).  The remaining 61 seats are split between 12 other parties and some independents*.

*updates 18th March, subject to objections of widespread electoral fraud, which have not yet been addressed 

The only problem with the elections, however, was the low voter turnout of 44%. Nevertheless, this represented an abstention by older generations and the younger generation seeking change were disproportionately represented.

It looks like Sadr wants to exclude al-Amiri and al-Maliki from any future coalition. Given that Sadr and the Sadrists don’t want to be PM, it may be that Abadi is offered the job as long as he pursues the nationalist Sadrist plan. Sadr, Abadi and al-Hakim together can, with their allies, dominate parliament with half the seats. Iran, on the other hand, through auspices of Qasem Soleimani are trying to bring Abadi into coalition with al-Amiri and al-Maliki, to form a government. Iran is firmly opposed to the Communist element in Sadr’s coalition. So Abadi finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war, but either way he will be turning his back on the US.

The political outcome of these events means the US will have to accept much more limited influence than Abadi allowed them to have during his recent tenure. As Marco Carnelos points out: “Irrespective of Moqtada Al Sadr’s victory in the Iraqi elections, the political outcome in the country will be more favourable to Tehran than Washington”.