Iraq’s new parliament holds first session 3 months after vote


BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s new parliament held its first session on Sunday, nearly three months after Iraqis voted in a general election whose results were contested by powerful Iran-backed factions.

The meeting ushers in what will likely be a long period of political wrangling between rival groups over choosing a new president and prime minister.

As the leader of the largest bloc, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – a maverick leader known for leading an insurgency against US forces after the 2003 invasion – has the upper hand in choosing the new prime minister. But he will have to deal with tensions with rival Shiite groups who continue to reject election results and demand a say in the government formation process.

Lawmakers from the al-Sadr bloc arrived early in parliament in Baghdad, wearing white shrouds that Muslims use to wrap their dead as a sign of their willingness to die for him. Al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political leaders, was the biggest winner in the October 10 vote, securing 73 of the 329 seats in parliament.

Pro-Iranian factions that alleged electoral fraud lost around two-thirds of their seats – a blow. Supporters of the armed groups pitched tents and staged a sit-in around the capital’s so-called green zone, home to the Iraqi government and numerous foreign diplomatic missions, for more than two months while they were doing appeal to the highest Iraqi court.

Tensions peaked in November with an assassination attempt with armed drones against the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi – an attack blamed on Iran-aligned groups. The Prime Minister is unharmed.

The court dismissed the appeal filed by Iran-backed factions and ratified the election results late last month, paving the way for the formation of a government.

Lawmakers are expected to elect a speaker of parliament and two MPs on Sunday. Parliament will then have to elect a new president, who in turn will have 15 days to appoint a prime minister appointed by the largest bloc to form a new government.

Under an informal deal dating back to the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq’s presidency – a largely ceremonial role – is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister is Shiite and the chairman of Iraq. parliament is Sunni.

The election came months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, which saw tens of thousands in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern provinces rally against rampant corruption, mediocrity services and unemployment. They also protested against neighboring Iran’s brutal interference in Iraqi affairs through Iranian-backed militias.

Independent candidates from the October 2019 protest movement who ran under the Imtidad list won nine seats. Some of them arrived at parliament by tuk tuk from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement. The colorful three-wheeled motorcycles carried protesters back and forth from the square and became a symbol of the protest movement.

Hamzeh Hadad, a political analyst, said the composition of the new parliament could help make elected officials more accountable to the public because of the new, smaller constituencies.

“With many independents and new elected political parties like the Imtidad Movement, we have seen real opposition form in parliament for the first time,” he said. “This is what the Iraqis hope to see from the new legislature.”


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