Tension in Iraq as cleric accuses Iran’s allies of meddling

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi parliament will hold a session Thursday to vote on the replacement of 73 lawmakers who resigned earlier this month. The collective strike by supporters of Iraq’s most influential Shia politician left Iraq in further uncertainty, exacerbating a months-long political crisis over government formation.

It was not clear whether the extraordinary session requested by 50 MPs during a recess would go ahead. A simple majority of the 329 members of the legislature is required for an election session, and al-Sadr urged parliamentary blocs not to succumb to “pressure” from Iran-backed factions.

Al-Sadr, a nonconformist politician with a large following, emerged as the biggest winner in October’s general election but has failed to work together a coalition that can form a majority government.

He is engaged in a power struggle with internal Shia rivals backed by Iran, preventing the formation of a new government.

Two weeks ago, he ordered lawmakers from his parliamentary bloc to resign in an attempt to break the eight-month deadlock. The unprecedented move rocked Iraq’s political landscape.

Under Iraqi laws, if a seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number of votes in his constituency will replace it. In this case, al-Sadr’s opponents of the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies, would form the majority. This would allow pro-Iranian factions to determine the composition of the next government.

Although Parliament is on recess, most of the Framework alliance’s lawmakers called for an extraordinary session on Thursday to vote on the new lawmakers.

On Wednesday, al-Sadr accused Iranian proxies of political interference. He also accused them of putting pressure on newly elected political independents and allies of his Sadrist bloc.

He called on parliamentarians not to succumb to pressure.

“I call on the blocs to stand up boldly for the sake of reform and saving the nation, and not give in to sectarian pressures because they are bubbles that will disappear,” he said in a statement.

Munaf Al-Musawi, a political analyst and director of the Baghdad Center for Strategic Studies, said al-Sadr’s statement against Iran’s proxies also sends a message to his former allies – Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Democratic Party and chairman of Parliament Mohammed Al-Halbusi – to avoid a parliament session.

He said that if a session is held, the Coordination Framework and its allies will control parliament and Sadr’s allies will pay the price.

The elections in Iraq were held several months earlier than expected, in response to mass protests that erupted in late 2019 calling on tens of thousands of people against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.

The political deadlock has raised concerns about renewed protests and street clashes between al-Sadr supporters and their Shia rivals.

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