Adding to speculation about the path to a coalition government in post-election Iraq, influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a formal call today for a national referendum on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki’s State of Law bloc suffered a narrow defeat to the Iraqiya bloc of Ayad Allawi in the election, but both lack the seats necessary to form a government. To do so they will need the support of the Iraqi National Alliance, a bloc dominated almost completely by followers of Sadr.
Sadr has a long history of enmity toward both Maliki and Allawi, and Maliki’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Sadr just days before the vote could come back to haunt him, now that the cleric is so politically powerful. In the meantime, delegates from both blocs have been flocking to Tehran, Sadr’s base of operations, in an effort to curry support.
The call for a referendum, however, is somewhat perplexing. Few would seriously imagine that such a thing would be possible, and once a caretaker government takes over there would appear to be no legal authority capable of authorizing it.
It may however be an indication of where Sadr stands at the moment. Maliki notably managed to pass the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) keeping American troops in Iraq, something Sadr vehemently opposes, by promising a referendum on that matter.
The SOFA referendum was initially to be held in July, 2009, but Maliki managed to successfully put it off by claiming it would be “cheaper” to hold it in concert with the parliamentary election, held March 7. Needless to say the referendum never happened, and at this point it is safe to say it never will.
The SOFA referendum was sought by two main factions: the Sunni secularist MPs and Sadr’s Shi’ite followers. Coincidentally enough many of the Sunni MPs have since moved into Allawi’s bloc, and now the two sides are in a position to put an end to Maliki’s stranglehold on Iraqi governance.