Saudi-led coali­tion launches as­sault on key port in Ye­men.

Al-Sadr, al-Amiri in talks to form gov­ern­ing coali­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CONNOR FOARDE BRIEFLY

A Shi­ite Iraqi na­tion­al­ist party and a party with close ties to Iran on Wed­nes­day an­nounced a political al­liance that could com­pli­cate the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to limit Tehran’s in­flu­ence in the next Iraqi govern­ment.

Fiery Shi­ite cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr told re­porters in Bagh­dad his Sairoon Al­liance party, which got the most votes in Iraq’s elec­tions, will work with Hadi al-Amiri of the Iran-backed Fatah coali­tion. The an­nounce­ment was made in the Shia holy city of Na­jaf, ex­actly one month after Iraq held its fourth elec­tion since the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein, a vote tainted by al­le­ga­tions of fraud and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

Mr. al-Sadr’s Sairoon Al­liance, which in­cluded the Iraqi Com­mu­nist Party and sev­eral sec­u­lar can­di­dates, won 54 seats in the 329-seat par­lia­ment, and Mr. al-Amiri’s Fatah coali­tion took 47 — still well short of the 165 seats needed to form a new govern­ment. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi’s Vic­tory al­liance, which worked closely with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in turn­ing back the threat from the Is­lamic State group and eas­ing the coun­try’s re­li­gious and eth­nic strains, came in a dis­ap­point­ing third in the race with 42 seats.

The first place fin­ish put Mr. al-Sadr in the driver’s seat for form­ing the next coali­tion govern­ment. The un­ex­pected al­liance with Mr. al-Amiri raised ques­tions about the ex­tent of Ira­nian in­flu­ence in the war-torn na­tion, at a time when the U.S. and its lead­ing al­lies in the re­gion are seek­ing to con­tain Tehran.

“Ira­nian in­flu­ence is al­ready large enough, it is not go­ing to get big­ger. The ques­tion is whether the next govern­ment can cur­tail Ira­nian in­flu­ence through political means, be­cause they can’t do it through the mil­i­tary,” said Randa Slim, an ex­pert on Iraq for the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute.

Michael Knights, an Iraq an­a­lyst at the D.C.-based Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, told the Abu Dhabibased news­pa­per The Na­tional that the al­liance could re­vive Iraq’s trou­bled sec­tar­ian his­tory.

“The for­ma­tion of a new Shia su­perbloc is pre­dictable, but nonethe­less rep­re­sents a missed op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing new — a di­verse ma­jor­ity govern­ment in which some Shia blocs are ex­cluded — and a re­turn to some­thing fa­mil­iar, the Shia megabloc,” Mr. Knights told the news­pa­per.

At the press con­fer­ence, Mr. al-Sadr and Mr. al-Amiri said they wanted to ex­pe­dite the for­ma­tion of a new govern­ment and called on other par­ties to join them.

“We met to end the suf­fer­ing of this na­tion and of the peo­ple. Our new al­liance is a na­tion­al­ist one,” Mr. al-Sadr told re­porters.

After the U.S. in­vaded Iraq in 2003, Mr. al-Sadr be­came known for back­ing Shi­ite mili­tia forces that con­fronted U.S. troops. Al­though once seen as close to Iran, in re­cent years he has po­si­tioned him­self as an Iraqi na­tion­al­ist who op­poses for­eign in­flu­ence while cru­sad­ing against govern­ment cor­rup­tion at home.

By con­trast, Mr. al-Amiri is widely seen as Iran’s clos­est ally in Iraq. He spent two years in ex­ile in Iran dur­ing the reign of Sad­dam Hus­sein and his Fatah coali­tion con­sists of Shi­ite para­mil­i­tary fight­ers cred­ited with help­ing drive Is­lamic State from the coun­try.

Mr. al-Sadr and Mr. al-Amiri in­sisted that fight­ing cor­rup­tion and poverty topped their joint agenda.

“Anti-cor­rup­tion, anti poverty have al­ways been a plat­form,” Ms. Slim said, “Sadr has al­ways been con­sis­tent with this, and of all the coali­tions he seems to be the one who has the most au­then­tic voice.”

De­spite ques­tions about the le­git­i­macy of the May 12 vote, in­clud­ing a re­cent fire at a ware­house hold­ing a huge num­ber of pa­per bal­lots, both Mr. al-Sadr and Prime Min­is­ter Abadi have op­posed calls from some in Par­lia­ment to hold en­tirely new elec­tions.

“The mat­ter is ex­clu­sively in the hands of the ju­di­ciary, not politi­cians,” Mr. Abadi said Tues­day “The govern­ment and par­lia­ment don’t have the power to can­cel the elec­tion.”

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