Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for March 17th, 2010

The Internal Dynamics of the Iraqi National Alliance: The Sadrist Factor

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 13:52

[Please note: This article was written while aboard an airplane based on the 66% count. New IHEC figures including more counts (circa 80%) have just become available, but the article is published as it stands on the basis of the previous data set]

Back in 2005, it was often an uphill struggle to argue that the influence of ISCI (then SCIRI) within the grand Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was generally exaggerated. Only after the local elections in January 2009 was the gradual weakening of ISCI acknowledged more widely, even if that trend in reality had been in the making for many years.

Today, the partial results of the parliamentary elections indicate that the open-list system – whereby voters may override the backroom dealing and wheeling of the party cadres – has contributed to a further marginalisation of ISCI within the reconstituted Shiite alliance known as the Iraqi National Alliance (INA). Based on a prognosis of 67 INA seats, the results so far clearly indicate a Sadrist lead with 34 or more than half of the seats. Given the increasingly critical condition of ISCI with an obvious leadership vacuum after the death of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, it now makes sense to distinguish between the former militia (Badr) and the political wing (ISCI), especially since it seems Badr has a certain core electorate in some southern provinces.  They get around 8 seats each, which is less than half of what the Sadrists get even if Badr and ISCI are counted together. The women’s quota will interfere with the final count: It does seem that the Sadrists have made a point of including a substantial number of female candidates on their lists, but in practice the women’s quota in this game will sometimes serve to strengthen the default ordering of the party elites against the wishes of the electorate. It is difficult to predict exactly what effect this will have, not least since some lists have fewer women on them than they should have had.

Sadr Badr ISCI Jaafari Fadila Other
Basra 3 1 1 1 1
Maysan 3 1 1 1
Dhi Qar 4 1 1 2 1
Muthanna 1 1 1
Qadisiyya 2 1 1 1
Babel 3 1 1 1
Najaf 3 1 1
Karbala 1 1 1
Wasit 3 1
Baghdad 11 2 1 1 1
Diyala 1 1
Nineveh 1
Total 34 8 8 3 4 8


Other trends include dismal performance by the Jaafari wing of the Daawa (which had a far more respectable performance in the local elections only a year ago). Fadila is also reduced, but has been in decline for a while. Significant failures include Wail Abd al-Latif (the secularist candidate in Basra), Abd al-Karim al-Anizi (Tanzim al-Dakhil, Diwaniyya), Taha Diraa (a vocal independent from Diyala), Qasim Dawud (independent in Najaf), Muyin al-Kazimi (ex provincial council leader for ISCI/Badr in Baghdad), Daghir al-Musawi (a militia-affiliated character who has been influential in Basra for some time), Hamid al-Hayis (the “Sunni cover” in Anbar), Sharif Ali bin Hussein bin Ali (ditto in Baghdad – no monarchy in Iraq anytime soon it seems), Muwaffaq al-Rubayie (949 votes in Baghdad so far) and – wait for it – Ali Faysal al-Lami, the de-Baathification director in Baghdad (so far only 590 out of some 324,000 INA voters in Baghdad have bothered to check his candidate number). Already old stalwarts like Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, Humam al-Hamudi and Hamid al-Muala have conveniently removed themselves from the public gaze by running as symbolic candidates in Kurdish and Sunni-majority areas (their hoped-for compensation seats now look doubtful), and of course Ammar al-Hakim decided not to be on any list at all.

In sum, it seems the Sadrists were a lot more successful with their “primaries” last autumn than ISCI (who tried to copy them but clearly failed in identifying the right candidates in a process which looked rather bogus at the time, including SMS voting). One of the remarkable aspects of the Sadrist success is their ability to use the open-list vote strategically, i.e. by spreading the vote on a number of winning candidates across the list (the more usual pattern is that a limited number of highly popular candidates stand out). An interesting story by Anthony Shadid in The New York Times today hints about something that sounds like a district allocation key which may have played a role in this at least in Baghdad. Additionally, the Sadrists, led by a 7-man committee of scholars based in Najaf who have liaised with Muqtada al-Sadr, have put a great effort into promoting individual candidates and providing voters with information on their educational and career backgrounds. But Sadrist voters are not doing this blindly: Some Sadrist candidates have been effectively demoted, such as Qusay Abd al-Wahhab, number six on the original list in Baghdad, and a deputy in the outgoing parliament.

It seems inevitable that the remarkable Sadrist comeback at some point will be reflected in different coalition-forming dynamics. So far, this tentative process has remained dominated by the old elites, but what is really the point in negotiating with a 16-man bloc such as ISCI/Badr? With 34 plus candidates, the Sadrist will form a sizeable contingent of deputies comparable to the Kurdistan Alliance and as such will constitute an independent centre of power in the next Iraqi parliament.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 26 Comments »