Middle East

Sadr meets with Abadi, hinting at large coalition

In this photo provided by the Iraqi government, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, left, meets with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, early Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Iraqi Government via AP)

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Moqtada al-Sadr late Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Shiite religious scholar’s bloc was declared winner of Iraq’s parliamentary election, the clearest sign yet they could work together to form a coalition. Sadr has sought to reassure Iraqis about their next government, saying it will be “inclusive” and mindful of their needs.

Speaking after the talks, Sadr said the first post-election meeting between the two “sends a clear and comforting message to the Iraqi people: Your government will take care of you and will be inclusive, we will not exclude anyone. We will work toward reform and prosperity.”

He did not further elaborate, or provide details about what he and Abadi discussed.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said at a joint news conference that both leaders had fully “agreed to work together and with other parties to expedite the process of forming a new Iraqi government.”

“It will be a strong government, capable of providing to its citizens services, security and economic prosperity,” he added.

No single bloc won a majority in the May 12 vote, raising the prospect of weeks or even months of negotiations to agree on a government, but Sadr’s victory puts him in a position to have a strong say in negotiations. Major political players began talks soon after the election’s partial results were announced last week.

“Our door is open to anyone as long as they want to build the nation, and that it be an Iraqi decision,” Sadr, whose Saeroun electoral list captured 54 parliamentary seats, 12 more than Abadi’s.

Before the election, Tehran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc to govern close ally Iraq, with which it shares a border.

Several political parties will have to align themselves to try and form a bloc large enough for the parliamentary majority necessary to nominate a candidate.

The election dealt a blow to Abadi, but he could still emerge as a compromise candidate palatable to all sides because he has managed the competing interests of the United States and Iran – unwitting allies in the war against Daesh (ISIS) – during his term in office.

In recent days, Sadr met with ambassadors from Iraq’s neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s main rival in the Middle East.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2018, on page 8.

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