Muqtada’s turn?

The Iraqi Supreme Court’s ratification of the results of the May 12 parliamentary election has set the stage for government formation. After claims of widespread irregularities during voting, Iraqi lawmakers had ordered a recount. The only change after the recount is that the Al-Fatah bloc, which had come second with 47 seats, now has 48, gaining one from the Baghdad Coalition. The Sairoon Alliance led by firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr remains the largest bloc with 54 seats, while incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance has 42. Now that the results are official, lawmakers have about 90 days to elect a Prime Minister. The MPs must elect the Speaker in the first session of Parliament. Within 30 days they are to elect, with a two-thirds majority, the next President. The President will then, within 15 days, ask the largest coalition’s representative to form the government. The Prime Minister-designate will have 30 days to come back to Parliament to approve a Cabinet, with each member required to be approved by a majority vote. If this process fails, the President has 15 more days to invite another candidate to be Prime Minister. A workable coalition will need the support of 165 MPs in the 329-member House.

For now, four Shia blocs — Mr. Sadr’s Sairoon that includes the Sadrist movement and the Iraqi Communist Party; Mr. Abadi’s Victory Alliance; Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s National Wisdom Movement; and secular politician Ayad Allawi’s Wataniyah — have formed a grand alliance. This Shia coalition has the support of about 140 lawmakers, and has sought support from other parties. The second largest bloc, Hadi al-Amiri’s pro-Iran Fatah Alliance, is yet to join hands with Mr. Sadr. During the campaign, Mr. Sadr had attacked the growing influence of the U.S. and Iran in Iraq. Fatah, made up of the Iran-trained Popular Mobilisation Forces that were at the forefront of the battle against the Islamic State, ran a pro-Iran campaign. In June, Mr. Sadr and Mr. Amiri had announced a surprise alliance in Najaf, but later Fatah backed out. If Mr. Sadr’s grand coalition does not get Fatah on its side, it will have to seek support from Kurdish or Sunni parties. Mr. Sadr cannot become Prime Minister as he did not contest. But being the leader of the largest bloc, he will play a crucial role in selecting the Prime Minister and setting the agenda for the government. His nationalist, pro-poor rhetoric during the campaign focussed on policies independent of foreign interference. The next government’s biggest early task is to improve security and address Sunni resentment in the north against the Shia elite in Baghdad. Mr. Abadi’s government has succeeded in regaining territories from the IS, but the task of re-accommodating Sunnis into the national mainstream remains.