Sa’iroun, the alliance between the Islamist Sadrist movement, the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and several smaller secular parties, emerged from last month’s elections as the largest coalition with 54 seats. However, the ICP gained only two seats: Raid Fahmi, ICP Sec. Gen., in Baghdad; and Haifaa al-Amin in Nasiriyah (Dhi Qar province). Negotiations among the major political actors on forming a governing coalition are underway. Muqtada appears to be negotiating on behalf of Sa’iroun. This raises questions about what influence, if any, the ICP has in the negotiations and what their thinking is about the process so far.
The ICP and the Sadrists made ending the system of sectarian and party quotas a central plank of their electoral programme. However, it seems unlikely that this policy can survive the horse-trading between the various factions that seek a stake in a future government. On 22 May, ICP Sec Gen Raed Fahmi posted the following message on Facebook:
“Rejecting the approach of sectarian quotas and the decisive combatting of corruption in all its forms represent the fundamental pillars of the programme and project of Sa’iroun which received broad popular support that pushed the list [Sa’iroun] to the forefront of the victorious alliances. Without these two pillars the desired reform cannot be achieved.”
Does the ICP have the influence to ensure Sa’iroun upholds its election manifesto? What will the ICP do if the policy is abandoned in negotiations? Is the ICP willing to partner with Islamist factions in a future government? I put some questions to Salam ‘Ali, ICP Central Committee member in charge of foreign relations, in the hope of finding out…
- What is the ICP’s role in negotiations between the various factions, is Muqtada negotiating on behalf of all Sa’iroun, just Istiqama candidates, or on his on behalf?
ICP has a representative (Jassem al-Helfi, member of its Political Bureau) in the negotiating team or committee representing Saeroun. Muqtada is also representing the alliance in his meeting with leaders of other blocs, in close coordination with the above -mentioned negotiating team.
- What will the ICP do if there is an accommodation between Muqtada and Fatih?
There are clear principles that have been agreed with Muqtada and Saeroun with regard to negotiations to form the bigger coalition in the new parliament that will be assigned the responsibility for forming the new government. The programme of the government should come first (before discussing names for the head of government, posts .. etc.). Any attempt to return to the quota system in setting up the government is firmly rejected. Saeroun will be guided by its own programme in the negotiations. A list of priorities for the forthcoming government, based on this programme, will be put forward. These principles apply to all blocs, including Fatih.
- Where do you see negotiations heading?
The meetings that Muqtada and Saeroun (through its negotiating team) have held so far have been exploratory and positive. Nasr bloc (led by Abadi) seems to be in close agreement with the above-mentioned principles presented by Saeroun. We are still optimistic that it would possible to form a government that is not based on the quota system, with a clear programme of political reform, giving priority to combating corruption, economic development, tackling unemployment, and providing services. Electoral reform will also be a priority. Saeroun will be a principal component of such a government. Otherwise, if there is return to a quota-based government, Saeroun will chose to be in opposition to implement its reform programme. The alliance has become an important factor in the political scene which would be difficult to ignore.
- What is the ICP’s response to Iranian influence in the negotiations, what is Iran trying to achieve?
ICP is firmly opposed to all external and foreign interference in the negotiations, whether Iranian or American or from other quarters. Iran had hoped that its allies would continue to dominate a future government, and thus maintain its widespread influence. A new factor in Iran’s calculations is the US escalation against it and the dangers to its regime. This will further complicate the situation, with the potential of a confrontation. With the outcome of elections, and afore-mentioned factor, we expect the Iranian regime to display a pragmatist stance towards the process of forming the new government, while attempting to ensure that its close allies be an important part of it. Avoiding provocations and confrontation would probably mark its policy in the near future in order to contain the repercussions of a hostile US policy.
As far as Saeroun is concerned, regarding this issue, it has stressed (also by Muqtada) that it is keen to maintain good relations with all its neighbours, based on non-interference and respect of Iraq’s independence and national sovereignty. Significantly, it has been pointed out that it would not be acceptable at all to allow Iraq to be a base of aggression against any of its neighbours. Foreign bases on Iraqi territory are firmly rejected. This should serve to send a clear message of reassurance to relevant parties, including Iran.