Baghdad: “One of the few, very few, not corrupt statesmen around. The guy worked in five ministries and there are not even rumours of him being corrupt,” Yazan al-Jabouri had told this reporter in speaking about Iraq’s current prime minister some weeks before he was sworn in last year.
A flurry of concerns had accompanied the swearing in of former governor of Iraq’s southeastern province Maysan, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, as prime minister in October 2022.
Many feared that, since most of his strongest backers were close to Iran-linked militias, this would lead to armed groups and parties close to them gaining full control over the state with serious repercussions for anyone opposing them.
The month before the government was formed and amid continued political bickering, al-Jabouri had correctly surmised in the interview with this reporter that al-Sudani would soon become head of government despite staunch opposition to his candidature from those backing popular firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr’s bloc had received the largest number of seats of any group in the October 2021 election — a vote which had been one of the demands of massive 2019 protests across central and southern Iraq that left hundreds dead and thousands injured.
The 2021 election was nonetheless marred by very low turnout, with many in the country feeling their votes would not matter.
Al-Sadr remains a powerful figure in the country. Observers argue that only he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani are able to singlehandedly influence such a large number of the population.
But amid drawn-out, fruitless negotiations and a government void six months into 2022, al-Sadr’s supporters had resigned from parliament in June on his orders.
Two months later, in August 2022, violence erupted in the Green Zone between his supporters at a sit-in near government offices and those of armed groups close to Iran and others. The next day, after dozens had lost their lives, al-Sadr ordered his followers to leave the area immediately to stop the bloodshed — and they did, obediently and en masse.
Despite al-Sadr’s staunch opposition to al-Sudani’s candidature as prime minister, he, thereafter, ceased to stand in the way of it.