Iraqi PM loses electoral allies

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BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Abadi on Monday lost the backing of most of the commanders of the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) who had allied with him for parliamentary and provincial elections due in May, leaders involved in the talks between the two sides told Arab News.

The new developments came as Abadi called for the elimination of Daesh “sleeper cells” after a twin suicide bombing killed 38 people in Baghdad on Monday in the second such attack in three days.

The bombers targeted the bustling Tayran Square, in the heart of Baghdad, setting off their explosive vests among laborers and street vendors during the morning rush hour. More than 100 people were wounded, The Associated Press quoted police and hospital officials as saying.

Abadi is hoping to secure another term in the parliamentary elections after declaring victory over Daesh and thwarting an Iraqi Kurdish bid for independence.

The “Victory of Iraq” alliance had until Monday been the strongest to announce its participation in the upcoming elections.

But PMU commanders who had allied themselves with Abadi abandoned the prime minister because they could not persuade him to give up certain conditions as the basis for forming the alliance, leaders familiar with the talks told Arab News.

Abadi “had asked them to give up their political and armed affiliations, and to join the alliance as individuals,” a senior Shiite leader familiar with the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“That was his essential condition from the beginning. They (PMU commanders) believed they could pressure him to change his mind, but he insisted on his stance.”

Abadi “told them clearly to forget any demands related to posts that they’re looking to get after the elections,” the Shiite leader added.

A PMU commander involved in the talks confirmed to Arab News on condition of anonymity that Abadi had refused to discuss the issue of desired posts.

“The electoral alliance has been broken, but the doors will stay open for parliamentary alliances after the election,” Ahmad Assadi, a PMU commander, told Arab News.

With their wide electoral base, PMU commanders’ backing is crucial for Abadi to get a comfortable parliamentary majority to form the next government.

The most powerful Shiite political and armed factions — including the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and the Islamic Supreme Council — have left Abadi’s alliance.

But all the Sunni, Christian, Shabak, Yazidi and Turkmen armed factions that fought Daesh under the PMU umbrella have stayed with him.

“All possibilities still exist. Abadi may ally with (Shiite cleric Moqtada) Sadr or a number of PMU armed factions,” a senior Shiite leader familiar with the talks told Arab News.

“Nothing is clear so far, but the certain thing is that Badr and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq won’t come back to ally with Abadi.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim Al-Jabouri denounced Monday’s attack as a “cowardly act against innocent people” and called on the government to take all necessary security measures.
Einas Khalil, a Baghdad housewife, blamed the security breakdown on the country’s feuding politicians, many of whom are connected to different state-sanctioned militias or branches of the security forces.

“We were expecting this because of the upcoming elections,” she told The Associated Press. “Every four years we have to live through this suffering because of political differences and disagreements.”

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