Mohammed Shia al-Sudani is part and parcel of the system that many Iraqis have called to reform or replace, with his appointment unlikely to resolve the root causes behind popular anger repeatedly flaring up over the past 19 years.
With news of a sudden breakthrough in Iraq’s entrenched political scene making headlines late last week – and signs that the end of the latest government paralysis may be over – it would appear that the status quo has, once again, won out in the battle of wills over who decides Iraq’s future trajectory.
Kurdish politician Abdul Latif Rashid was appointed as president last Thursday after more than a year of political gridlock. Almost immediately thereafter, Rashid appointed the Shia Islamist politician Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to the post of prime minister and charged him with forming a new government.
While this has been feted as welcome news, it could come with a host of difficulties as the underlying and deep-seated political problems of the country that have led it into crisis after crisis have not been addressed.
If Sudani is successful in forming a new government, we could be witnessing the end of one political crisis and the beginnings of an entirely new one.
“The status quo has, once again, won out in the battle of wills over who decides Iraq’s future trajectory”
Sadr’s victory now a defeat
Although hardline Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had the highest proportion of the dismally low turnout that saw only two-out-five Iraqis vote in last year’s general election, Sadr has effectively sidelined himself and his bloc, leaving his rivals to form a government without him.
Sadr has also made it abundantly clear that his movement will not be joining the new government, with one of his deputies saying that Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani is “clearly subordinate to the militias” – a clear reference to Sudani’s links to pro-Iran Shia militant groups and politicians.
While Sadr is known for his mercurial tendencies and could very well change his mind, it should also be noted that Sadr himself has had command and overall authority over several Iraqi Shia militias backed by Iran, the most infamous of which was the Mahdi Army, known for its death squads that perpetrated sectarian cleansing campaigns against Iraq’s Sunni community.
However, Sadr’s path from electoral victory to political defeat was arguably one of his own making – with a little help from his rivals.
d with Iran’s ever-present influence on these factions, as well as admonishments from Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his abandonment by his movement’s spiritual guide, Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri who ordered Sadrists to pledge fealty to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that scenario remains a distant possibility and is unlikely to materialise.