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After months of negotiations, Muqtada Al-Sadr forms largest parliamentary bloc in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Muqtada Al-Sadr has formed the biggest parliamentary bloc in Iraq’s parliament after months of stalled negotiations, Shiite MPs involved in the talks told Arab News on Sunday.

The breakthrough gives Al-Sadr, one of the country’s most influential clerics, and his allies, the exclusive right to form a government. 

The agreement came just ahead of the first session of the Iraqi parliament on Monday, when the biggest parliamentary bloc must be registered.

If the alliance holds, it means that Iran and its allies have failed to take the lead in shaping Iraq’s political landscape and would have to join the Al-Sadr alliance if they want to be part of the next government.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who is hoping to extend his position to a second term, is part of the new coalition, but it is unclear whether he will keep his job as he is no longer the only candidate from the alliance.

Al-Sadr sponsored the Sairoon coalition, which won first place in the May election with 54 seats. The cleric has led intensive negotiations over the past three months with almost all the winning political forces. 

Al-Sadr, whose followers battled US forces after the 2003 invasion before he turned on Iran, has said he wants to form two parliamentary blocs, in a maverick move to break the cycle of corruption and conflict that plagues Iraq and its politics.

The first is a ruling bloc responsible for the formation and administration of the government. The second plays the role of the opposition and oversees the government’s performance. Both blocs have to include Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Al-Sadr’s ruling coalition will consist of 148 members, including the 54 from Sairoon, 43 from Al-Abadi’s Nassir, 20 from Hikma, 21 from Wattiniya and other small blocs. Negotiations are still ongoing to convince some Kurdish and Sunni blocs to join, negotiators told Arab News.

Al-Sadr and his allies had aimed to form a coalition of at least 200 seats to achieve a comfortable majority in the 329 seat parliament. 

“The ruling coalition will form the government in all its areas, including the positions of the president and the speaker, so we seek to achieve a complete separation between the (political) forces that will be with us and the forces that will be in the opposition,” a senior Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.

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