Esmail Qaani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), arrived Sunday in Najaf, 180 kilometres to the south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Qaani held a series of meetings with different Iraqi political forces to converge views on the next cabinet lineup.
“These meetings aim to unify the Shia house after the recent row between the Coordination Framework and the Sadrist movement,” the source said.
Qaani is also expected to meet the leader of the Sadrist movement, powerful populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to the same source.
Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Sadr, who dominated the recent election, keeps his word, say Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts.
However, they add that moves by Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily-armed militias which make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq.
The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on January 9 when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Western-leaning Kurds, re-elected with a solid majority, a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp.
Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement with whomever it chooses to work.
“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement earlier last week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.
Sadr’s MPs, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.
Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.
But excluding the Iran camp from the government risks a violent backlash. There have been in recent days attacks on political parties allied with Sadr causing two injuries and material damage to building in Baghdad. They have also challenged the election of the parliament speaker in the Federal Supreme Court.
Qaani’s series of meetings with Iraqi political forces come within this context and as Iran struggles to maintain its political influence, experts say.
According to Iranian media, Qaani visited the grave of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as other graves in the city of Najaf. The Quds Force commander also paid a visit to the Mausoleum of Imam Ali.
Muhandis was killed in 2020 in the US drone strike which targeted then IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. The Qaani’s visit comes after a string of rocket and drone attacks targeting US advisers in Iraq and Syria in early January. At least some of the attacks were blamed on pro-Iran militias.
Source » thearabweekly