The new, deep crisis that hit Iraq in October 2021 is entering an acute phase. For the past ten months, the country could hardly be considered a viable state: the powers of the supreme organs of power expired in December 2021, while the new parliament failed to put forward a candidate for the post of prime minister.
All attempts by the Sairoun (En Marche) movement, which came first in the parliamentary elections, to reach an agreement with the opposition failed, after which Moqtada al-Sadr announced in late May that representatives of his coalition would leave the parliament. After the resignation of 73 of the 329 MPs, hopes of forming a viable government were definitively dashed. The reason for this is that the candidacy of the new head of government, according to the constitution, must be supported by at least two-thirds of the legislators, and these legislators have a complicated relationship.
After the departure of al-Sadr’s faction, the leader of the second largest group, Nouri al-Maliki, put forward his candidacy for prime minister, but then withdrew it: Iraqis associate his figure with the rampant corruption. In addition, some consider him guilty of the tragic events of 2014, when the troops of Daesh occupied Mosul, Tikrit and other cities and vast areas of the country.
In his place, the Coordinating Framework coalition advanced another candidate, Mohammed al-Sudani. But this only increased the level of irritation, because between 2010 and 2014 he had worked in the government of Nuri al-Maliki as Minister of Human Rights.
Moqtada al-Sadr criticized these moves, and his supporters took active action. On July 27, protesters entered the parliament building in the capital. Despite calls from interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi to leave parliament immediately, the protesters announced an open-ended sit-down strike.
Two days later, security forces blocked access to the capital’s Green Zone and protesters began to leave the area. According to local media reports, a compromise was reached between the authorities and Moqtada al-Sadr. However, a leader of the Coordination Framework said the coalition had no plans to withdraw its candidate for prime minister, and the protests resumed with renewed force.
On July 30, supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr again entered parliament, this time demanding the dissolution of the legislative body and the creation of a transitional government, as well as a change in the leadership of the Supreme Judicial Council. Moqtada al-Sadr called it a revolution.
Additional forces were sent to Baghdad. Clashes between law enforcement and protesters lasted throughout the night of July 31 to August 1, with injuries on both sides. Rallies have also started in other provinces: Maysan, Diwaniya, Diyala, Babylon, Dhi Qar, Basra.
This standoff cannot be resolved by itself. A bomb has been dropped on the constitution. The system of power quotas according to ethnicity and religion (as in Lebanon or Bosnia) creates permanent crises. However, changing the constitution, even through amendments, is not a quick or likely affair under the current circumstances.
Against the backdrop of ongoing political strife fuelled by the economic crisis, the country has once again found itself on the brink of civil war.
It is clear to all that a civil war would be the worst-case scenario. One radical way to prevent it would be a military coup. All military coups in Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc.) were defeated under the slogan of Arab nationalism. That is why Moqtada al-Sadr calls for a national revolution, to drive out the “Western and Eastern players”, referring to the United States and Iran.
However, there is no unanimity among the military either. In addition to traditional tribal ties, many of them are closely linked to various political groups. Apart from the regular army, the Ministry of the Interior and the special services, there is the powerful paramilitary Shiite “popular militia”, which is not so much subordinate to directives from Baghdad as it is carrying out missions in the interests of radical figures closely linked to Iran.
And there is an ongoing proxy war on Iraqi territory between the United States and Iran, while Turkey continues its permanent special military operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the northern provinces of Iraq. There remains the problem of support for Kurdish separatism by the United States and Israel with attempts to separate Iraqi Kurdistan. De facto Kurdish autonomy is now an independent entity.
This reminds us of the plan to collapse Iraq into three parts: Kurdistan, the Shiite south and the Sunni region. This option has long been studied by the United States as preferable, as it negates the likelihood of Iraq’s rebirth as a regional power with new threats to Israel, Washington’s main ally in the Middle East.