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Tension in Iraq as a cleric accuses Iran’s allies of meddling


BAGHDAD — Iraq’s parliament is due to hold a session on Thursday to vote to replace the 73 MPs who resigned earlier this month. The collective walkout by supporters of Iraq’s most influential Shiite politician has thrown Iraq into further uncertainty, deepening a months-long political crisis surrounding the formation of the government.

However, it was unclear whether the extraordinary session requested by 50 MPs during a recess would materialise. A simple majority of the 329-member legislature is required for an election session, and cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr has urged parliamentary blocs not to succumb to “pressure” from Iran-backed factions.

Al-Sadr, a maverick politician with a large following, emerged as the biggest winner in general elections held in October but was unable to cobble together a coalition capable of forming a majority government.

It has been locked in a power struggle with internal Shiite rivals backed by Iran, preventing the formation of a new government.

Two weeks ago, he ordered lawmakers from his parliamentary bloc to resign in a bid to break the eight-month deadlock. This unprecedented decision plunged the Iraqi political landscape into disarray.

According to Iraqi laws, if a seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate with the second highest number of votes in his constituency replaces him. If so, that would make al-Sadr’s opponents of the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies, the majority. This would allow pro-Iranian factions to determine the composition of the next government.

Even though parliament is in recess, lawmakers, mostly from the umbrella alliance, called for a special session on Thursday to vote on new lawmakers.

On Wednesday, al-Sadr accused Iranian proxies of political interference. He also accused them of exerting pressure against newly elected political independents and allies of his Sadrist bloc.

“I call on the blocs to stand bravely to reform and save the nation, and not give in to sectarian pressure, because these are bubbles that will disappear,” he said in a statement.

Munaf Al-Musawi, political analyst and director of the Baghdad Center for Strategic Studies, said al-Sadr’s statement against Iran’s proxies also sends a message to his former allies – Massoud Barzani of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Al-Halbusi. — to avoid holding a parliamentary session so that the Coordinating Framework and its allies do not take control of the house.

Elections in Iraq came months ahead of schedule, in response to mass protests that erupted in late 2019 and saw tens of thousands rally against rampant corruption, poor services and unemployment .

The political stalemate has raised fears of further protests and street clashes between al-Sadr supporters and their Shia rivals.

ABC News

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