BAGHDAD: A top Iraqi Shia cleric has decided to take a step back for the next 40 days to allow his Iran-backed opponents to establish the country’s next government.
Muqtada al Sadr’s surprise move comes five months after Iraq’s general elections, against the backdrop of the country’s political deadlock.
Sadr made the offer in a tweet, adding urging his supporters not to interfere “neither positively nor negatively” as his opponents in the Coordination Framework, a coalition of Iran-backed Shia parties, struggle to put together a cabinet.
This conveys to Sadr’s opponents that they should pursue the cleric’s Kurdish and Sunni friends in any prospective negotiations. Sadr’s offer received no immediate response from the Coordination Framework.
Iraqi political groups have reached a stalemate, and Sadr, the election winner, has been unable to create a coalition administration.
He has assailed his rivals, saying they “obstructed and are still obstructing” the process.
The parties are at odds over who should run for president, a problem that could spill over into the premiership.
Due to the ambiguous and shifting loyalties of some politicians and parties, it is also unclear whose party comprises the largest bloc in parliament.
The 40-day window offered by Sadr would start on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, expected to begin this weekend, depending on the sighting of the new Moon. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, meaning the timeframe offered by Sadr would stretch beyond Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
The development is “a clear challenge and dare” directed at his rivals while also being a “test of partners,” tweeted Farhad Aladdin, chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council, a policy research institute.
Sadr’s offer was not immediately evident as to its sincerity. With a large grassroots following, the clergy gained the most seats in the election, but not enough to form a parliamentary majority.
Iran-aligned groups, particularly those linked to former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, have emerged as his main adversaries. Last Saturday’s parliament session fell short of the two-thirds quorum required to elect a president. Legislators affiliated with the Coordination Framework generally boycotted the event.
If the Coordination Framework fails, Sadr’s Sairoon party will gain tremendous clout, but if it succeeds, Sadr’s party will be relegated to the opposition.