Though a number of comparable “deals” have seemingly emerged only to collapse over the past seven months, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemingly is on the brink of having ensured himself a second term in office after the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) backed off its previous objections and agreed to back him, bringing him just a handful of seats short of a majority government.
The real winner in the deal though is influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who became the de facto leader of the INA following the March vote and has turned the alliance between the Shi’ite religious bloc and the State of Law bloc of Maliki into a Shi’ite powerhouse which is committed to increasing the power of Iraq’s Shi’ite clergy.
Sadr, an outspoken critic of the US occupation, has been a longtime rival of Iraq’s political establishment, but found himself in the surprising position of kingmaker after his normally tiny political faction gained big in the vote, creating an opportunity for him to advance his own agenda in the near term as well as setting the stage for a long term trend in Iraqi politics.
The allied government has already agreed to give the Najaf Marjaiyah, the Shi’ite religious council, supreme power to issue binding edicts in the country, and would make Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the dominant power in the council, the virtual ruler of Iraq.
Sadr’s role in this is almost certain to cement him as a growing force not just politically but religiously, and as he continues to pursue his own Ayatollahship he will find those powers increasingly one and the same, and establishing himself as a dominant force in the country long beyond Maliki’s term.