It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Parliamentary elections were held in Iraq
on Sunday, May 12; 169 seats are required for a majority, and with only 45 percent voter
turnout, and with 92 percent of the votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission
has declared Muqtada al-Sadr’s Alliance as the winner of the parliamentary elections. On to talk about the Iraqi elections with
me is Sabah Alnasseri. He is professor at the Department of Political
Science at York University in Toronto. He’s the editor of Arab Revolutions and Beyond:
The Middle East and Reverberations in the Americas. Good to have you with us, Sabah. Hi, Sharmini. Sabah, this appears to be a surprising new
development in Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr is famous in Iraq, but no
one expected him to lead a coalition to victory. Explain what happened. Right. Well, the most significant thing, I believe,
is that the classic question, not the security, not [dodge]. The classic question took center stage in
this connection. The core issue here is corruption, and justice,
and so on. So the centrist politician, [inaudible], which
means the march of revolutionary for reform, created a non-sectarian, or cross-sectarian,
civil/religious coalition between the Sadrist and the civil currents and the [inaudible]
party. This is something new. This should have happened, like, 10 years
ago. We discussed this at The Real News at that
time. But you know, better late than never. This is the first significant thing about
this election. The second thing, I would say, is that both
candidates preferred by the United States and Iran actually lost the election. Maliki [inaudible], the State of Law, and
the [inaudible] of the people, popular mobilization unit, with his better militia. And the third thing, as you mentioned, Sharmini,
that this is the lowest turnout since 2005, with 45 percent of the vote. I mean, more than 55 percent of the Iraqi
people, especially young people, the majority of them young people, they did not vote, because
they were frustrated. They did not believe in any change. They are fed up with the same old faces, with
the same corruption, and so on. So they did not go, they did not bother voting. And to their credit, [inaudible] of Muqtada
al-Sadr, I think this is, this is significant. Muqtada al-Sadr prohibited all the Sadrist
politicians who were in parliament before not to participate in this election, and he
pushed for young candidates. All of them are young candidates. So all, all the politicians of al-Sadr’s,
except for one, Majda Tamimi, she stayed because she, she is well known for, for anti-corruption
politics. She exposed a lot of corruption in Iraq. She’s the only one who stayed on the list. But all others are new faces. So you have now probably a parliament with
a lot of young new faces. And I think this is also significant in regard
to the previous election. All right, Sabah, tell us what the makeup
of this Sadrist party is. It’s a coalition, or alliance, as the Iraqis
call it. Who is in the alliance, and what does that
mean for the political makeup of the country? Well, first of all, as I said, the alliance
was actually built two years ago. We had many protest movements in Iraq in 2010,
’11, ’12, on up until 2017. And they occupy the Green Zone and the right
parliament. And this protest movement was carried, it
was a spontaneous protest movement by young people. The majority of them are young people. It carried by young people, but then supported
by the Sadrists and the Iraq [inaudible] party, and other civil movements and independent
politician. So this, this coalition, [inaudible name]
of al-Sadr that won the election now, is the outcome of this social movement/protest movement
of the last few years. So since last year, these different forces
agreed to have one list, and participate on this list, and agreed on nonsectarian civil/national
or nationalist program. That means an independent Iraq, neither dominated
by Iran or by the U.S., nor sectarian or ethno-sectarian divided, but a much more national and unified
Iraq. And I think this is significant because it
appealed to a different segment of the Iraqi societies. And you look at the biggest provinces in Iraq,
like Basra, Baghdad, Najaf, and so on, you will see that they won all these provinces,
even Baghdad. Everybody thought that al-Abadi, the incumbent
prime minister, would win the election. He didn’t. So I think this reflects the mood of the Iraqi
people, of the young Iraqi people, who are non-sectarian, and not religious, generally. They aspire to a much more civil and open
type of a society and state, and the rule of law. And I think the program, maybe there are two
important points Sairoon, you know, put forward during the election, is a systemic anti-corruption
policy and exposing those who were involved in corruption and crimes and so on, and investment
and infrastructure, and employment in the, in the industrial sector, or the agriculture
sector, et cetera. Because there you have the most unemployed
Iraqi population. And I think if, this is a big if, because
as you know, for the first time there is no one coalition that has the majority of the
seats within the parliament. If we look at al-Maliki coalition, the last
time they won 92 seats. Now only 25 seats. So you have a fracturing of all fraction of
the parliament. The biggest one, of course, Sairoon of al-Sadr. But they cannot govern alone. They need to make coalitions. And I think it is significant that al-Sadr,
today and yesterday, was saying, was saying that Sairoon, his coalition, they’re saying
this coalition is willing to build a coalition with the Sunni, and the Kurds, and al-Abadi,
but not with al-Maliki, and not with [inaudible] of the popular mobilization movements who
are close to Iran. So I think this is significant in regards
to Iran and to the United States. All right. Now, we’ll park that issue for a moment and
talk about al-Sadr himself. Now, he’s not going to be able to become prime
minister. He didn’t run for a seat. How much control can he have over whoever
is going to be leader? Well, he has control over his coalition, special
[inaudible], provided that he sticks to the agreement he had with the civil camp of the
Communist Party that he will not ally with sectarian forces in the parliament. As long as he sticks to that, and I think
he will stick to that, he will have an enormous influence on his list within the parliament. And I think he is the one who is going to
decide with whom this list will start negotiation on the building of the future government. Which means they are very open to the prime
minister al-Abadi. He might be able to become the prime minister. The Sadrists don’t insist on this [inaudible]
of the prime minister, because they want their program to be implemented, and not so much
the position of the prime minister. So they’re open in this regard. And I think if the Sadrists probably, you
know, give the Communists and the civil [inaudible] some executive positions, like the Labor Ministry,
of Culture Ministry, et cetera, this will also introduce a significant change in Iraq,
in the level of employment and education, and healthcare, of course, because these are
the three sectors of the, you know, the, the Iraqi population suffers under since 15 years,
that nothing has been done in this regard. And most of the money of reconstruction, investment,
et cetera, were appropriated by few [leads] and their clientelist network, and transferred
outside of the country. So that will be a major issue. I think if they stick to this, they can introduce
some reforms that might create the space for future better institutions in Iran. Sabah, Muqtada al-Sadr is known for his anti-American
views, given that he has led two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2003. Now, that is interesting, but so is this,
which is that Ayatollah Khameini in Iran has also said that there’s absolutely no way that
these liberals and communists would be allowed to lead Iraq now. Yet he won. So what is actually going on, and will he
be able to govern Iraq without the influence or the support of Iran and the U.S. Russia. I don’t think there will be an absence of
Iran and the U.S. in Iraq. This is not the case. It’s true that the Sadrists and the Communists,
there are very critical views of Iran and the United States. And they are critical about how much influence
Iran and the United States have in Iraq on decision making. And not only the security and military issues,
but in other regards, economically, culturally, et cetera. So they are very critical of that, and they
want a much more independent/Arab national Iraq much more embedded in the regional environment
of Iraq, and not solely, you know, an ally of Iran or the United States. So there’s a, there’s a change here. And that means that Iran, of course, will
try to support its ally in Iraq. Bring them together and hope that they will
be able to secure a majority within the parliament, and nominate the prime minister, and so on. Because Iran is very critical about the Sadrists,
and the speciality [inaudible] they don’t want to come to power in Iraq. And the United States, the same thing. They cannot trust al-Sadr, because, as I said,
he resisted the U.S. occupation and presence in Iraq since 2003. And of course they cannot trust the Communists. So that means what they, I think what the
U.S. will try is to pressure al-Abadi to go in alliance with the Sadrists and so on, and
probably secure some sort of presence through al-Abadi and his coalition within this new
government. And as long as the Sadrists are capable of
excluding Iran [close] forces in Iraq, I think the U.S. will be happy with that. They cannot hope for much more than that,
because if they try to impose their will, they would end up also rejected by these functions,
just like, you know, the Iraqi people rejected the Maliki list. So I think it will be a very, very delicate
issue, and it’s not easy to maneuver through. And I think both Iran and the U.S. will do
their best to influence the coalition and the, the government-building within Iraq. And that’s why I think that the building of
Iraqi government and the, the nomination of the prime minister will take not only weeks,
it will take probably a month until we really know who will be the permanent prime minister,
and what kind of coalition, and what is that nature of this cabinet, et cetera. But one thing for sure, I think. We are witnessing now political [inaudible]
in Iran that nobody, and I mean nobody, no media, nothing, not Iran or the U.S., expected
this outcome of the election. I was reading the, I read the New York Times
a few days ago, and they were predicting that al-Abadi will win the election, and [name
inaudible] and so on. Those three lost the election. And so it’s interesting how the Iraqi people
prove everyone wrong, and that’s a good thing. All right. Sabah Alnasseri, I thank you so much for joining
us today, and we’ll come back to you when that coalition forms. Pleasure. Thanks for having me. And thank you for joining us here on the Real
News Network.