First session of Iraq’s new parliament marked by chaos

By Qasim Abdul-Zahra | The Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s new parliament re-elected its speaker for a second term on Sunday, the first step toward forming a new government after a general election whose results have been contested by powerful Iran-backed factions.

In a reflection of the tension, the meeting was marked by disarray, with the eldest member of parliament leading the session apparently being taken to hospital due to tension.

This chaotic meeting is likely to spark a prolonged political wrangling between rival groups to choose a new president and prime minister. As the leader of the largest faction, Shia cleric Muktada al-Sadr – a vagabond leader best remembered for leading a rebellion against US forces after the 2003 invasion – has the upper hand in forming a new government. But he will have to manage tensions with rival Shia groups who continue to shrug off the election results and are seeking to have their say in the process of forming a government.

According to Iraq’s constitution, the largest bloc of parliament has the right to choose a new prime minister. But as the meeting got underway on Sunday, a coalition of Shia factions known as the Shia Coordination Framework, which objected to the vote’s results, submitted a list of the names of the lawmakers they claim. It is now the largest parliamentary block with 88 seats. Al-Sadr.

Chaos broke out in the house for a while, during which lawmakers crowded around Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was leading the session. Within minutes, the 73-year-old MLA was taken out of the room by security forces and tied into an ambulance, which took him to a hospital, where he was met by some heads of political and militia factions. According to witnesses, who later saw him there, the MLA appeared to be in good condition.

After the disruption, Parliament session resumed, although the issue of majority was not resolved immediately.

Later, 200 MPs elected Mohamed al-Halbousi, the current parliament speaker, for a second term, while 14 voted for al-Mashhadani.

Al-Halbousi, whose Sunni party came in second with 37 seats, is a former governor of Anbar province and was supported by al-Sadr, Kurdish and Sunni groups.

Earlier on Sunday, legislators from al-Sadr’s faction arrived early to the parliament building in Baghdad, donning white shrouds as Muslims wrap their dead in a sign of their willingness to die for him. One of Iraq’s most influential political leaders, al-Sadr, was the biggest winner in the October 10 vote, winning 73 of the 329 seats in parliament.

Pro-Iran factions accused of voter fraud lost nearly two-thirds of their seats – a significant blow. Supporters of the armed groups pitched tents and protested around the capital’s so-called Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi government and several foreign diplomatic missions, for more than two months while they appealed to Iraq’s top court.

Tensions ended in November with an assassination attempt with armed drones against the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi – Iran-aligned groups were attacked. No damage to the Premier.

The court rejected appeals filed by Iran-backed factions and confirmed the election results late last month, paving the way for government formation.

MPs are expected to elect a parliamentary speaker and two deputies in Sunday’s session. Parliament must then elect a new president, who will have 15 days to appoint a prime minister nominated by the largest bloc to form the new government.

Under an informal agreement relating to the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq’s presidency – a largely ceremonial role – is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister is Shia and the parliament speaker is Sunni.

The election was held ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019 that saw thousands rallying in Baghdad and mainly in the Shiite southern provinces against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. He also opposed the heavy interference of neighboring Iran in Iraq’s affairs through Iran-backed militias.

Independents expelled from the protest movement of October 2019 won nine seats under the provisional list. Some of them boarded tuk-tuk from Tahrir Chowk, the center of the protest movement, to reach the Parliament House. Colorful three-wheeled motorized vehicles drove the protesters back and forth from the square and became a symbol of the protest movement.