The Iraqi Electoral Committee came out with an official statement on November 30 confirming the results of the parliamentary elections that concluded on October 10. Only two minor changes were made: raising voter turnout from 43 to 44 percent and changing winner seats in five provinces.
None of the major parties were affected by the manual recount, which put a damper on the hopes of Iran-backed figures like Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization, and Faleh Fayyad, head of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
Amiri was hoping to reverse the initial results, which showed that his Badr Organization had lost 17 seats throughout Iraq. Their bloc, once comprised of 22 members, was now down to five. The same applies to Fayyad’s PMU, which now only controls five seats as well, prompting Amiri to reject the original results, describing them as “fabricated.”
The final results will be sent to the Higher Federal Court for authentication before the new chamber is sworn-in.
The final results will be sent to the Higher Federal Court for authentication before the new chamber is sworn-in. Smiling from a distance is the final winner of the October elections, rebel-turned-politician Muqtada al-Sadr, whose party, Sairoun, won the lion’s share of seats—a total of 73 out of 329 MPs. This gives it the upper hand in the Chamber of Deputies and a final say on who Iraq’s next prime minister will be.
A majority vote is required, however, to name a new premier, which means a total of 165 MPs. Sadr does not have that number, forcing him to team up with the second and third largest blocs in the new chamber. One is the Taqqadum Party of Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi, a Sunni Muslim which just won 37 seats. The other is the State of Law Coalition of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki, another protégé of Iran, which secured 33 seats.
Not all these MPs might agree to whomever Sadr nominates for the premiership but even if they do, that adds up to 143 MPs, 22 votes short of a majority. This would compel Sadr to reach out to smaller blocs, or to his former friends in the Iran-backed camp, men like al-Amiri and Fayyad. Although critical of the final results, they have no option but to accept them. Otherwise, they would have to either withdraw their candidates from parliament, considering it illegitimate, or turn their bloc into a parliamentary opposition. In both cases, they would be deprived of the possibility of helping name a new prime minister.
On November 19, Sadr announced that he was disbanding his armed militia, the Promised Day Brigade. He called on other militias to do the same, claiming that all arms from here on need to be monopolized by the Iraqi state. The announcement portrayed him as a responsible politician, more interested in the security of the Iraqi nation than his own power base. But in a country like Iraq, promises are cheap, and are easier said than done.
On November 19, Sadr announced that he was disbanding his armed militia, the Promised Day Brigade.
The Promised Day Brigade is the formal successor of the Mehdi Army, the all-powerful force of Shiite militiamen that accompanied Sadr’s rise to power and influence since 2003. Sadr knows that he cannot support his 73-man parliamentary bloc unless there are armed men on the streets willing to enforce his commands. It is those militiamen that made Sadr the man he is today. During the early years of the US occupation, they staged an insurgency against the Americans at his orders, winning minds and hearts within the Shiite community.
In 2005-2006, they protected the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, after the breakdown of the Iraqi Army, and did not hesitate to abduct, torture, or kill those who were perceived as a threat, mainly al-Qaeda-affiliates or former members of Saddam Hussein’s army, security services, or the Baath Party. Then in 2014, these very same militias teamed up to fight ISIS in Iraq, once again marketing themselves as saviors of the Iraqi people. Sadr cannot do without the Promised Day Brigade, and he knows it.
Moreover, this is not the first time that he has called on his militias to surrender their arms. He famously did it back in 2007, also calling on them to freeze all operations. However, this was not for the general good of the Iraqi people, but rather to give himself space to purge the militia from rowdy and undisciplined elements in anticipation of giving it a political and military facelift.
Naming a New Premier
The issue now is who to name as Iraq’s new premier once parliament is called into session. It is no secret that both the Badr Organization and the PMU were hoping to remove the incumbent Mustapha al-Kadhimi, who they view as a threat. Since coming to power in mid-2020, Kadhimi has tried to dismantle their militias, making it a cornerstone of his domestic policy, taking jabs against Kataib Hezbollah and then arresting a top commander from the PMU in May 2021.
Kadhimi was forced to step back after the PMU threatened to topple him by force. Last month, he was sent a strong-worded message through a drone attack at his residence in Baghdad, believed to be the doing of Iran-backed militias.
Removing Khadimi won’t be that easy, however, since Badr and the PMU no longer have the parliamentary majority required to carry out such a putsch. Whether he stays or leaves will be up to Muqtada al-Sadr to decide. Sadr initially supported Kadhimi’s rise to the premiership in May 2020, and none of the premier’s measures since then have targeted him or any of his followers.
Sadr realizes that Kadhimi is welcomed by the US and keeping him would please the international community.
Therefore, Sadr sees very little reason to have him removed, other than it would certainly please Iran and its proxies in Iraq. Sadr also realizes that Kadhimi is welcomed by the US and keeping him would undoubtedly please the international community. Sadr will now have to walk a very thin line, trying to please both stakeholders.
So, Sadr might rename Kadhimi as premier, but on condition that top posts in his government go to Iran-backed figures from Badr and the PMU. Alternatively, he can also abandon Kadhimi and go for a new premier, possibly even from the Sadrist bloc, arguing that fresh new faces need to be given a chance. He has not hidden his intention at making a Sadrist prime minister, since this is one of the few posts in the Iraqi administration that the Sadrists have never occupied.
It would be a sweet reward for the 20 years spent as an underground movement, and the 19 years of being at the center of Iraqi politics without ever reaching government headquarters. Earlier this year, one of Sadr’s top aides, MP Hakim al-Zameli, put it bluntly, saying: “If the premiership goes to any party other than the Sadrist movement, it means that the elections are rigged.”
No names are presently making the rounds, however, either from the Sadrist bloc or elsewhere, and all discussions are focused on whether Mustapha al-Kadhimi stays or leaves. Once Sadr makes up his mind, all options would be on the table as to how Kadhimi forms a new government, or who the first Sadrist prime minister will be.