Iraq: An anti-American cleric’s electoral triumph
Iraqis are desperate for change, said Asharq Al-Awsat (U.K.). That is the clear takeaway of last week’s parliamentary election, the first since ISIS was driven out of its Iraqi strongholds last year. The vote’s big winner was the Sairoon alliance led by firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, placing first in six of Iraq’s 18 provinces, including the largest, Baghdad. Second place went to the Fatah coalition of Hadi al-Amiri, a militant with strong ties to Iran. The Nasr party of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, which had been forecast to win it all, was limping along in third place. Sadr didn’t personally run for office, so he can’t be prime minister, but he will be “the key power broker.” His unlikely coalition—which included Iraq’s Communist Party and Sunni businessmen—pitched itself as an anti-corruption force, and its victory is “a slap in the face” for the country’s ruling establishment.
Yes, Sadr is back, but he’s different now, said Omar Sharrif in Gulf News (United Arab Emirates). He was seen as a puppet of Iran following the fall of Saddam Hussein, when the cleric’s Mahdi Army militia battled against U.S. occupying forces and committed atrocities against Iraqi Sunnis. But Sadr has since distanced himself from Tehran and now portrays himself as a nationalist, a figure of hope for those who want Iraq to “emerge from a cycle of sectarian strife.” His supporters shouted “Iran out!” as they celebrated his victory in Baghdad, “singing, chanting, dancing, and setting off fireworks, while carrying his picture and waving Iraqi flags.” Sadr is still “vehemently anti-American,” though, said Ibrahim Al-Marashi in Qatar’s AlJazeera.com. And with Amiri, who fought on Iran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, set to receive the second most seats in parliament, U.S. influence in Iraq will shrivel.
Apathy was the real winner, said Qassem Hussein Saleh in Al-Mada (Iraq). Turnout was 44 percent overall; in Baghdad, where Sadr won big, it was a mere 33 percent. That’s far lower than in previous elections, even though those votes were held while the country was suffering near-constant suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. Iraqis are tired of watching their lawmakers grow rich while failing to provide basic services, and are disgusted that fraud and ballot stuffing in past votes went unpunished. Like abused dogs that no longer even try to escape their tormentors, we have “succumbed to despair.”
Yet Iraq can’t afford to give up, said Ghassan Charbel in Asharq Al-Awsat. With U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, “an Iranian-American confrontation is looming.” And without a strong government to work for its citizens—Sunnis and Shiites—“Iraq may become one of its arenas.” Let’s hope Sadr can unify the nation and remove it “from the grip of nearby and distant countries.” Time is gold, and Iraq must act now if it wants to “become a player, not a playground.”