Fears of violent escalation as Iraq's political deadlock deepens
The deep political deadlock in Iraq has entered its 10th month with no solution in sight and fears there could be a violent escalation.
Why it matters: Many are concerned the political crisis — the longest in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — will lead to a flare-up of armed conflict on the streets between supporters of the different parties.
- A civil war in Iraq could lead to a larger conflict in the region with neighboring countries weighing in.
State of play: Iraq held early elections in October 2021 in response to a nationwide, pro-reform protest movement that began in late 2019.
- Since the vote, a political deadlock, mainly among Shiite parties, has prevented the formation of a new government.
Last October's elections made Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Sadrist movement the largest bloc in Parliament.
- His rivals — the Coordination Framework grouping of Shiite parties, which includes Iran-backed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — have thwarted al-Sadr’s efforts to form a coalition government with leading Sunni and Kurdish parties.
- The Framework, for example, has been able to prevent enough MPs from attending parliament to vote on forming a new government.
- Al-Sadr has ordered his own MPs to resign and blocked the Framework from nominating its own prime minister.
- Both camps, which command heavily armed militias, also organized protests in the capital Baghdad in recent weeks.
Between the lines: Iraq’s oil wealth — with foreign currency reserves expected to surge to $90 billion by the end of the year — has not translated into an improved economic situation for many Iraqis.
- Al-Sadr has capitalized on the anger and frustration felt by Iraqis, casting himself as a nationalist bulwark against foreign interests, particularly Tehran’s influence.
Driving the news: Outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi hosted a national dialogue last week that the Sadrist movement refused to take part in, though most other major groups did, as well as the UN envoy to Iraq.
- Al-Sadr has demanded the country's judiciary dissolve Parliament, but this has been rejected.
- Al-Sadr’s followers protested outside the Supreme Judiciary Council in Baghdad's Green Zone yesterday, escalating the situation.
- The council responded by closing down all courts across the country for a day. A Baghdad court has also issued arrest warrants against three Sadrist leaders for “threatening the judiciary."
The big picture: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought closer ties with Baghdad in recent years.
- Iraq has been leading wider stability efforts, mainly between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
What to watch: Holding early elections as a way to end the crisis was not ruled out during last week's national dialogue meeting, but it is not clear how this can happen amid the current deadlock.
- According to the Iraqi constitution, only Parliament can call early elections.
- The Supreme Federal Court, however, is also looking into a separate lawsuit calling for the dissolution of Parliament, with a ruling expected next week.