Analysis: Three scenarios mulled

What does Sadr want?

Baghdad — Sources within the Sadrist Movement confirm to 964media that its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, is deliberating over various strategies to contest the upcoming elections, aiming for a guaranteed majority win without provoking fierce Iranian opposition, reminiscent of the political confrontation two years ago, when he secured over 70 seats but failed to form a government and consequently pulled out of the parliament and the political process.

Sources close to Sadr told 964media that the new nomenclature, the Patriotic Shia Trend, for the Sadrist Movement, penned by Sadr, reflects a more advanced stage in his “election plan”.

Sadr is reportedly aiming to secure two-thirds of the Shia seats, which total 180, hoping that this majority would attract Sunni and Kurdish leaders without needing to ally with specific rivals from the Coordination Framework, the current ruling alliance of the Shia parties, thus avoiding a “crippling third” veto.

If a bloc or an alliance has a third of the parliament they can boycott the sessions and hence not achieve quorum for electing the president who in turn names the prime minister. This was used by the coordination framework in the last election and managed to block government formation by Sadr , the Kurds and the Sunnis.

Sadr’s strategy does not preclude a potential alliance with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, who could serve as a counterbalance to Iranian influences. However, such a move would require al-Sudani to possibly defy Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, AAH, led by Qais Al-Khazali after the elections.

Sources close to Sadr indicate that he would accept an electoral law amendment “gift” from the State of Law Coalition leader Nuri Al-Maliki, without reciprocating with an alliance. The proposed ammendment by Maliki stipulates that Iraq is split into 50 electoral districts with a high electoral threshold. This will prevent smaller parties from entering parliament.

Close associates of the Sadrist Movement are testing public opinion about forming new Shia alliances, including promoting a Sadrist list that encompasses a broad spectrum of Shia parties.

These sources assert that the proposed electoral law changes would not allow the Sadrist Movement to retain the number of seats it won in the last parliamentary elections. Internal calculations suggest that the “genuine” Sadrist votes would translate to approximately 55 seats under a multi-district system.

Despite these challenges, Sadr remains committed to the majority project he fought for in 2022, which ended in a political crisis and his withdrawal from the political scene.

Sadr believes that his movement is ready to contest the elections now, but needs a decisive victory to avoid uncalculated negotiations with “undesired political forces”.

The Sadrists dismiss local media speculations that the Sudani alliance in the next election includes figures like Asaad al-Eidani, Basra Governor, and Mohammed al-Mayahi, Karbala Governor, maintaining that they are predominantly Sadrists.

However, it remains plausible that Sudani could end up without allies within the Coordination Framework, even without the support of figures like Qais Khazali, a scenario welcomed by Sadr.

The new name for the Sadrist Movement, Patriotic Shia Trend, is a blend of two political concepts aimed at ensuring broad Shia representation: the State of Law in its 2014 iteration and the Coordination Framework formed in 2021.

Optimistic accounts overlook the plans and movements of Coordination Framework leaders, especially Maliki, who is reputed among his peers for his tactical acumen in election strategies.

From the conversations 964media had with the various parties, three potential scenarios outline the future landscape for Sadr:

Majority from opposition: Sadr will not ally with any party from the Coordination Framework, including Sudani, after presenting a list that includes opposing Shia forces, Tishreen (October 2019 protestors) parties, and the Sadrist movement, before defecting Shia forces join Sadr’s coalition. The total seats of this coalition could reach two-thirds of the Shia seats (180 seats). This scenario is undermined by the numbers that the rest of the Shia parties might obtain, especially as some expect a rise in Qais al-Khazali’s seats in the upcoming elections if Sudani joins him.

Maliki – Sadr: Sources say that talks of the former prime minister meeting Sadr figures to exchange secret messages about the election law amendment and prepare for an alliance between the rivals are just “rumors” leaked by Maliki knowing that the Sadrists would not deny. Maliki knows that Sadr’s interest in the amendment proposal for the election law is a political service that paves the way for an unlikely alliance between rivals. But the wide gap between Maliki and Sadr might make this scenario difficult, given Sadr’s political pride when it comes to Maliki.

The Sadrists say that Sadr will accept Maliki’s gift of election law amendment without thanking him for it. A Sadrist insider said, “He will take the gift with neither thanks nor gratitude.”

Sudani – Sadr: It is likely that Sudani will ally with Sadr after the elections, as the latter received advice that he needs to ease pressure with the Iranians and avoid confrontation with them when he allies with a politician who helped Tehran stabilize the political situation for two years without significant problems, and the seats Sudani will obtain could help Sadr neutralize the crippling third of votes, and bring him closer to Kurdish and Sunni parties who are wary of a new revolutionary project by Sadr.

Khazali could threaten this alliance, as AAH controls critical government institutions considered by Sudani as one of his weapons in the upcoming elections, and of course, Sadr will completely ignore Sudani if Khazali is behind him.