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Iraq’s coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties aim to end Iran’s influence

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi enjoys clear US support in forming the next government. (AFP)

(Arab News) BAGHDAD: Iraqi political forces are close to agreeing on a parliamentary coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties that will curb Iranian influence in the next government.

Details of negotiations that could reshape the country’s political landscape were revealed exclusively to Arab News by sources involved in the talks.

The talks are being led and sponsored by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who emerged as the biggest winner in the May 12 elections.

His Sairoon alliance won 54 seats, and he aims to form a coalition of 200 seats, 34 more than the required number to form a government.

By establishing such a big coalition in the 329-seat Parliament, Al-Sadr plans to block rivals from attempting to form their own coalition, the negotiators said.

According to the Iraqi constitution, securing the largest parliamentary coalition is the first step to forming a government.

Al-Sadr’s success in forming the biggest bloc limits the influence of pro-Iranian parties in the next government and boosts Haider Abadi’s chances of continuing into a second term as prime minister.

Abadi, whose alliance came third in the parliamentary elections with 44 seats, enjoys clear US support.

Al-Sadr and Abadi have proposed a “consultative council” comprising heads of the political entities that make up the coalition. The council will form the government and supervise its work.

“Formation of this (council) is the practical translation of the concept of patriarchal government adopted and announced by Sadr,” a negotiator from one of the Shiite parties told Arab News.

“Initially this council will not enjoy any official status but will organize the governmental and legislative work of the bloc.”

The negotiator said that along with Al-Sadr and Abadi, the council will include Ammar Al-Hakim, the prominent cleric and politician who heads Al-Hikma alliance, and “those who come with them to form a government.”

The council “is likely” to include Iyad Allawi, the Sunni-backed vice president and head of Wattiniya alliance; Masoud Barzani, the former president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; and Ossama Al-Nujaifi, the Sunni vice president and head of Al-Qarar alliance.

“They have reached preliminary understandings on the key points,” the negotiator said.

The plans propose that the sharing of power between religions and ethnicity should be limited to the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the Parliament, while ministers are selected by the new coalition.

Previously all the ministries have been divided out among Iraq’s various sects.

“This will be a political majority government, but will include all the contents of Iraqis (Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds),” the negotiator said.

“Negotiations are going well and we expect to announce the formation of the largest bloc before Eid (middle of June) or maybe before that.”

Two other politicians familiar with the talks confirmed details of the plans to Arab News and said Al-Sadr, Abadi, and Al-Hakim generally agreed on most of the points.

Negotiations are continuing with Alawi, Barzani, and Al-Nujaifi, a senior Shiite leader told Arab News.

“The project aims to build up a governmental bloc that includes all the parties, which will participate in the government and an opposition bloc that includes the rest. No party will be allowed to be in the government and in the opposition at the same time,” he said.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been a battleground for world powers in the region, especially Iran and the US. A stable government cannot be formed without agreement from the two nations.

Two sources familiar with the talks told Arab News that the US “fully supports” Abadi and Al-Sadr, and “there are no objections against Al-Sadr so far.”

But Iran is “still negotiating to ensure that one of its allies is in the new formation.”

The negotiator said Iran hopes to get the Badr Organization, one of the most prominent Iraqi armed factions, into the new coalition.

Badr is led by Hadi Al-Amiri and is part of Al-Fattah alliance, which is also headed by Al-Almiri and came second in the election with 47 seats. Al-Fattah included most of the pro-Iranian Shiite paramilitary groups.