Final results for this weekend’s Iraq election are still a day away, but the direction is shaping up, with influential Shi’ite cleric and nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr’s party, Sairoun, performing the best and expected to come out with an even bigger plurality than last time.
Sadr’s faction had 54 seats in the outgoing government, and early estimates give them 73 this time. That’s a lot, but not enough to govern alone, meaning the party will either need allies or will, as has been the case in the past, serve as “kingmaker” from some better-connected bloc.
It is too early to say what such a coalition would look like, though in this past Sairoun has favored alliances with centrists and secular groups, as the call for independence from foreign powers doesn’t always sit well with the more established Shi’ite blocs, who are almost universally aligned with Iran.
For his part, Sadr has declared victory, and promised to form a nationalist, anti-corruption government. Any government is likely to be months down the road, as negotiation in Iraq is never fast.
Sadr’s influence comes in part from being the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr. His father was an important advocate for the poor, and that’s given him a lot of credibility within poorer Shi’ite communities around Baghdad.
Sadr has sought to maintain that position by being very critical of politicians beholden to outside forces, and pushing hard for reforms. He initially intended to boycott this election, though he ultimately reversed course on that. Whether that will pay off for him remains to be seen, though the vote seems a good start.
During the US occupation, Sadr’s advocacy for an independent Iraq has made him a consistent opponent of the US military presence. Officials have tried to spin him as pro-Iran, though in practice he has not backed either side and seeks an Iraq responsible for its own destiny. That this is not widely understood in US media coverage reflects how much of the Iraqi polity is in bed with the US or Iran.