Iran piles pressure on Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni leaders to crack Sadr’s alliance

Iran has begun piling pressure on Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and the speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, hoping to convince them to abandon Muqtada al-Sadr’s political project and save Tehran’s Iraqi allies.

Six months on from Iraq’s October elections, and neither Sadr’s Save the Homeland alliance nor the Iran-backed Shia Coordination Framework, led by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, have been able to form a government.

Sadr is currently taking a political timeout. The influential Shia cleric had sought to exclude his rivals by forming a majority government alongside Barzani’s KDP and the Sunni Sovereignty bloc, led by Halbousi.

But abstaining Coordination Framework MPs have choked all progress in parliament, prompting Sadr on 30 March to withdraw from politics for 40 days and set his rivals a deadline to form a coalition of their own.

With two weeks to go, Iran believes Sadr’s “tactical” retreat has given its allies an “irreplaceable” opportunity to dismantle his alliance, Iraqi politicians and observers told MEE.

Pressure has been intensified on Sadr’s “soft flanks”: Barzani’s KDP and the Sunni factions headed by Halbousi.

The Iranians and their Iraqi allies are trying to isolate Sadr and force him to change his position, paving the way for an agreement that would see a government formed that included all prominent parties, Iraqi politicians familiar with the progress of negotiations told MEE.

“Sadr is stubborn and reckless. He does not mind pushing matters to the brink if the Iranians intervene directly, unlike his Kurdish and Sunni allies,” a prominent Shia leader close to Iran told MEE.

“Therefore, the Iranians chose to play with him in an indirect way. Doubling the pressure on Barzani and Halbousi is more effective and less harmful than pressuring Sadr.”