An anti-Amer­i­can cleric’s elec­toral tri­umph

The Week (US) - - News 15 -

Iraqis are des­per­ate for change, said

(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.”

Sadr: From Ira­nian stooge to Iraqi na­tion­al­ist

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