For Moqtada al-Sadr, and for many others, having Haider al-Abadi as prime minister is probably still the best option. Yet al-Sadr will seize the opportunity to impose his own conditions upon al-Abadi in return for supporting his candidacy.
There is real concern among other players that while Moqtada al-Sadr may not actually be prime minister, he will drive things from behind. Despite the fact that he did not stand in the elections and that his alliance won less than 17% of the vote, he is already acting as though he is the overall winner and the country’s new power. As soon as the election results were announced, he called on ambassadors from various regional states to meet with him. He is also busy issuing statements and tweets, prompting some to refer to him as Iraq’s answer to US President Donald Trump.
Moqtada al-Sadr has also spoken of his desire for ‘a fatherly state’, although has not elaborated on exactly what he means by this. Such a description hardly inspires confidence, and as one Iraqi commentator remarked, al-Sadr runs his own current in this way, but now sees himself as the ‘godfather of the political process’ as well. These elections have certainly given al-Sadr political clout and legitimacy, and the next few years will see al-Sadr play a major role in the governing of Iraq.
As for the bigger picture, if al-Abadi continues as prime minister with al-Sadr as a power behind the throne, it isn’t necessarily all bad news for Iraq. Such an outcome will likely mean that there will be continued and more concerted efforts by those in power to reform the country both politically and economically. There is likely to be a significant and possibly meaningful anti-corruption drive, as well as a real attempt to push technocrats to the fore.
As to Iraq’s foreign relations, while al-Sadr is likely to continue to employ anti-US rhetoric, and to call for an end to a US presence in Iraq, in reality, the country will likely continue in the same direction, with Moqtada al-Sadr steering a course between the US and Iran.