Sadrists Rising

The formation of a new coalition government in Iraq will be difficult as rival political groups have all done well enough in the election to demand a share in power.

The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc is vying with Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya list, as front runner with the most votes. Maliki is ahead in seven out of 18 provinces, while Allawi is ahead in five.

Voting has been largely along sectarian or ethnic lines, with the Prime Minister ahead in Baghdad and most of the Shia provinces of the south, while Allawi, himself a secular Shia, is winning the Sunni provinces of the north. The Kurdish parties are being returned for Kurdish areas.

The Shia vote has split mostly between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), grouping the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with the latter doing particularly well. With nobody strong enough to form a government on their own, a coalition will be necessary, but this will be difficult to create because the main political blocs often have directly opposing agendas.

All votes have still not been counted from the election on  March 7, but the political landscape of Iraq after the poll is beginning to become clearer. Maliki has done well, but possibly not well enough to hold his post, since the Sadrists, who may have as many as 40 seats in the new 325-member parliament, are insisting that he should not head the next government.

Once his allies when he became Prime Minister in 2006, the Sadrists blame him for co-operating with an American drive against them in 2008. Maliki might look to split the INA and seek an alliance with ISCI, which appears to have polled badly.

Allawi has won Sunni but probably not enough Shia votes to be Prime Minister, though the Sunni community, which backed the anti-American insurgency after the invasion of 2003, will want a share in power and the spoils of office.

These are very important in Iraq because of its $60bn in oil revenues and because most well-paid jobs are with the government. Getting a job, from primary school teacher to executive in the oil industry, requires party backing.

The Kurds are likely to retain their crucial role in creating a new government, but would have difficulty in reaching an agreement on a coalition with Mr Allawi because his party has done particularly well among Arabs in the provinces centred on Mosul and Kirkuk, where control is contested between Arabs and Kurds.

After the last election in 2005 it took five months to put together a government, and sharing power after the latest poll will be an equally complicated and lengthy business.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.”


Patrick Cockburn’s past columns can now be found at The I. Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).