While the Iraqi national election took months of political wrangling to settle upon, the unofficial referendum being organized by the Sadr bloc is moving at a lightning pace, with voting set to begin Friday and continue on into Saturday.
Sadr’s political faction won 39 seats in the March vote, putting it at the head of the 70 seat Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and in the position of “kingmaker” capable of breaking the near deadlock between the first and second place parties, led by Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki, respectively.
Sadr bloc speaker Salah al-Obeidi said it was possible that the bloc could support Maliki, while Ammar Hakim, another key INA member, said it was possible they would support an alliance with Allawi. Sadr himself seems unwilling to decide between the two, hence the call for the referendum.
The referendum will include five candidates, along with the option to “write in” a sixth option. In addition to the expected Allawi and Maliki, the referendum will also three others.
INA member and current Vice President Adil Abdulmahdi, a former leader in the Iraqi Communist Party with strong ties to Iran and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council is included, as is former Prime Minister and long-time Dawa Party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Maliki rival who formed the competing National Reform Trend. Perhaps the most interesting addition is Moqtada al-Sadr’s cousin Jaafar Mohammed al-Sadr, a member of Maliki’s State of Law faction previously mentioned as a “compromise” candidate.
The addition of Sadr’s cousin and former Dawa Party favorite Jaafari and the lack of any alternative candidates from the Iraqiya bloc could suggest that the referendum is designed to “split” the State of Law vote and provide Sadr potential cover if he does decide to ally with the secularist Allawi.