Politics & Economics

Second-Tier Iraqi Shia Figures Consider Forming New Alliance

Iraq

The three political figures working to create this alliance, the observers add, enjoy good relations with the leaders of traditional Shia parties and groups, but still need to reassure Iran. If they fail to do so, the observers warn, their presence will be threatened.

BAGHDAD–Second-tier Iraqi Shia figures are considering the possibility of forming a new coalition to run in upcoming general elections, distancing themselves from traditional parties in an attempt to implement what is known as “generational displacement.”

“Adnan al-Zurfi, the leader in the victory coalition led by Haider al-Abadi and Muhammad Shiaa al-Sudani, a leader in the State of Law coalition led by Nuri al-Maliki, are considering the possibility of forming an alliance to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections with an independent list,” said Farhad Alaeddin, a former adviser to the Iraqi president.

The concept of “generational displacement” first emerged in statements of young members and advisers from the political team of Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Wisdom Movement.

This happened when Hakim split from his previous political organisation, the Supreme Islamic Council, which was established in Iran to fight the Iraqi Army in the 1980s.

By splitting with the Supreme Islamic Council, Hakim wanted to open a new political page. He succeeded when the Wisdom Movement began to play a role within the Shia political camp after its success in 2018 general elections.

Hakim’s example encouraged young leaders within the Wisdom Movement to later split and launch their own political projects, notably Qusay Mahbouba and Salah al-Arbawi, who eventually distanced themselves from Hakim by forming a new group.

A promising “generational displacement” project, according to many observers, is an expected alliance between Adnan al-Zurfi and Muhammad Shiaa al-Sudani, who each enjoy significant public support that has enabled them to gain special status within the ruling political class.

Zurfi was born in the city of Najaf, where he previously served as governor. A former opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime, he immigrated to the United States and returned after 2003.

In Najaf, Zurfi built a good reputation by adopting a secular approach to politics and modern administrative concepts. This good reputation ultimately led him to obtain a mandate from President Barham Salih to form a government in 2019.

Despite Zurfi’s failure to form a government following Iran’s’ efforts to hinder him, he left a good impression that hinted at a promising political future.

Sudani, on the other hand, was a second-tier leader in the Islamic Dawa Party led by Nuri al-Maliki until 2019, when he resigned, opting to lead his own political project.

Sudani previously served as governor of Maysan. He has also been a member of parliament and served as a minister in multiple governments.

He managed to garner decent public support when he led the ministry of labour and social affairs in the government of Haider al-Abadi between 2014 and 2018. During this time, he organised a database for poor and needy families that should benefit from the state’s financial support.

Zurfi has been nominated multiple times as prime minister, without being tasked to form the government, and is among the political figures who are expected to play an important role in Iraq’s political future.

Both Zurfi and Sudani are likely to secure seats in any election that takes place in the foreseeable future. The two men, however, are more ambitious than that and aspire to play even greater political roles.

Before Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi assumed office, Zurfi failed to form a government because he refused to come to any understanding with Tehran. Observers say he believes that his country’s only chance to transform into a successful state is establishing close relations with the United States.

An alliance with Sudani, who has worked for years with the cadres of the Dawa Party and was exposed to the secrets, conditions and requirements of the relationship with Iran, could yield a balanced internal composition that answers the questions of Washington and Tehran at the same time. Such an alliance could also enjoy a reasonable popular base within Shia political circles, as both Sudani and Zurfi have never been accused in corruption cases or involved in sectarian disputes.

According to Iraqi sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Zurfi and Sudani have communicated in recent months with many second-tier Shia figures to discuss the possibility of forming a cross-sectarian coalition for the upcoming elections.

Among the figures to have sealed a preliminary understanding with Zurfi and Sudani is MP Muhammad al-Darraji, who split from the Sadrist movement led by Moqtada al-Sadr and joined the Fateh Alliance led by Hadi Al-Amiri, which he also later left to work as an independent in parliament.

Darraji boasts a remarkable media presence and is considered as one of the most active second-tier politicians in advancing crucial parliamentary bills. He is also known for his courage to openly tackle sensitive issues, such as the file of smuggling US dollars from Iraq to Iran.

Observers believe that an electoral alliance that includes these three figures will be able to reinvigorate Shia politics and create an alternative for voters who have lost their confidence in traditional Shia parties.

According to the same Iraqi sources, Zurfi, Sudani and Darraji are frequently engaging with young second-tier Shia figures with the aim of luring them to their new alliance.

Observers say that the alliance, if officially formed, will have sufficient internal immunity to ensure its existence, but will not be safe from external meddling.

The three political figures working to create this alliance, the observers add, enjoy good relations with the leaders of traditional Shia parties and groups, but still need to reassure Iran. If they fail to do so, the observers warn, their presence will be threatened.

Article: The Arab Weekly

Image: AP