Faith and challenge

Wednesday, 2018-05-23 12:59:47
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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets with Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad, May 20, 2018. (Photo: Getty)
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NDO – The coalition of the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won the highest percentage of votes in the recent Iraqi parliamentary election, reflecting the wish of the majority of Iraqi voters to heal the profound divisions present in Iraqi society. The coalition is expected to form a government that will help strengthen solidarity in a multi-religious country aiming to overcome the challenges in an arduous process of national reconstruction.

Iraq’s first parliamentary election since the country’s declaration of victory in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) proceeded in a smooth manner. However, the victory of al-Sadr’s Saairun Alliance (Alliance towards Reforms) and the third-place finish of the Al-Nasr (Victory) Alliance, headed by incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, was something of a surprise. The second-place finish went to the Al-Fatah Alliance, led by Hadi al-Amiri, the head of a Shi'ite paramilitary force, and an influential figure in Iraq, as he led a paramilitary group to contribute significantly to the victory in the war against terrorism. The Saairun Alliance won 54 seats in the new legislature, not an outright majority, so they will have to negotiate with the other winning blocs in order to form a government.

The victory of cleric al-Sadr marks a surprising return for a man who receives the support of the youth and the poor. Al-Sadr has ruled himself out of becoming the prime minister, and prefers instead to work with a government of technocrats from dozens of parties. In the context of the country having experienced turbulent times due to devastating conflicts as well as deep faction and ethnic divisions, the process of negotiation for the formation of a government in Iraq is predicted to be arduous, despite the initially favourable results beyond expectations. The Iraqi media reported that political forces have made significant progress in negotiating the establishment of the largest coalition in the parliament, aiming to prepare for a new government. According to the head of a group of parliamentarians of the Saairun Alliance, the negotiators reached a preliminary agreement with a number of key figures, including the incumbent PM al-Abadi and influential Shi'ite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who leads the Al-Hikma Alliance.

Negotiations between the parties focused on the formation of a new Iraqi government. The renunciation of the power-sharing system, which has been ratified by political parties since 2003, is the most prominent issue agreed upon by negotiators. The goal of the ruling coalition is to carry out the necessary reforms and correct the mistakes which have regulated Iraq’s political process since 2003, in the aftermath of the overthrowal of President Saddam Hussein. Iraq has had to pay repeatedly for mistakes. The bloody ethnic conflict of the past few years has pushed the oil-rich nation into a prolonged crisis, often teetering on the brink of collapse. A majority government, representing all factions and ethnicities in Iraq, including the Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim communities and the Kurds, is the aim of negotiators. Iraqi politicians have resolutely denied outside interference in the internal affairs of the country and have drafted a new action programme for the government.

The new Iraqi government is facing major challenges in rebuilding the country. Together with the goal of quickly implementing national reconciliation in order to build a bloc of solidarity and unity and a strong army to cope with the post-IS security threats, the task of restoring the oil industry and mobilising approximately US$100 billion for the much needed national reconstruction and repairs of the war-ravaged infrastructure are “thorny problems” that challenge the capabilities of the upcoming ruling coalition in Iraq.

Over the past 15 years, since the United States brought troops into Iraq to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and establish a pro-US administration, Iraq has never seen a day without gunfire. The relentless blasts of bombs have covered the country during the prolonged civil war and then in the war against IS. The Iraqi people have been deeply aware of the loss and pain left by the war and conflicts, as well as the complicated problems caused by military interference from outside. Therefore, when the most votes were cast for cleric al-Sadr, the local people are expecting that the new administration will look towards the national interests and can help to resolve the long-standing conflicts between factions in the country.