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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Iraq politicians announce 'cross-sectarian' coalition

Alliance between Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi and Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr promises a technocratic government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose bloc came first, looks at Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, whose political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, during a news conference in Najaf, Iraq June 23, 2018. Alaa al-Marjani / Reuters
Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose bloc came first, looks at Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, whose political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, during a news conference in Najaf, Iraq June 23, 2018. Alaa al-Marjani / Reuters

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi have announced the formation of a political coalition, taking the country a step closer to a new government.

The move announced from the Shiite holy city of Najaf follows nearly six weeks of negotiations after an election marred by record low voter turnout and allegations of fraud.

"We announce a cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic alliance to speed up forming the next government and to agree on common points that guarantee the interests of the Iraqi people," Mr Al Sadr said during a news conference on Saturday evening.

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The populist cleric – who led violent campaigns against the US occupation that ended in 2011 – has emerged as a champion of the poor and a nationalist opponent of powerful Shiite parties aligned with neighbouring Iran.

Mr Al Sadr promised voters that he would form a technocratic government that would transcend the sectarian politics that have plagued the country since the 2003 US invasion.

Although he did not seek a seat himself, Mr Al Sadr's bloc took 54 seats of the 329 seat parliament, followed by rival Shiite bloc Fatah led by Hadi Al Amiri, Iran’s closest ally in Iraq, with 47 seats.

During his press conference, the populist leader made no mention of his separate coalition with Mr Al Amiri's bloc, which controls a powerful militia that operates in Iraq.

The prime minister, whose bloc came third, said the alliance with Mr Al Sadr was in "harmony with existing alignments".

Both Mr Al Abadi and Mr Al Amiri are said to be eyeing the position of prime minister, while Mr Al Sadr, who is not a member of parliament, is not.

Mr Al Sadr made no mention of Nouri Al Maliki in the coalition to form Iraq's next government, an apparently decisive setback for the former prime minister, who in the past has managed to cling to power despite rising unpopularity.

The Shiite cleric has previously vowed that he would not allow Mr Al Maliki another term as prime minister.

Last month's elections were Iraq's fourth since the US invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein, but were marred by the lowest voter turn out in 15 years because of widespread frustration at what is widely regarded as a dysfunctional political class.

Allegations of fraud further complicated the post-election scene, leading to calls for a recount and new elections.