Iraqi PM nominee Mohammed Al Sudani.
Iraqi PM nominee Mohammed Al Sudani. Image Credit: AFP

Damascus: The Coordination Framework, an all-Shiite body, formally nominated Mohammed Shayyah Al Sudani, 52, for the Iraqi premiership on Tuesday.

Nomination is one thing, but getting enough votes to become prime minister in another. And even then, cabinet formation can take weeks, or months, plunging the oil-rich country into further paralysis.

From underground into Al Maliki’s political orbit

Al Sudani hails from the Maysan Province in southeast Iraq, close to the Iranian border. Born in 1970, he was trained as an agronomist at Baghdad University and grew up despising the regime of Saddam Hussein, which had executed his father while Al Sudani was only 10 in 1980. His father’s crime was membership in the underground Iran-backed political party, Al Dawa, led by prelates from the powerful Sadr family.

Mohammed Al Sudani walked in his father’s footsteps, working with Al Dawa to topple Saddam. He joined the Shiite uprising of 1991 and after Saddam’s ultimate downfall in 2003, allied himself with Nouri Al Maliki, who became premier in 2006 and appointed him governor of his native Maysan in 2009.

Al Sudani parted ways with A Dawa to help found Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, through which he was elected to parliament three times, the last being in October 2021.

In 2010, Al Sudani was appointed minister of human rights under Al Maliki, and four years later, became minister of social affairs under his immediate successor, Haidar Abadi.

Power politics in Chamber of Deputies

This is not the first time that Al Sudani has been nominated for the premiership. Al Maliki first suggested him as a possible successor to Adel Abdul Mehdi in 2019, and then, as an alternative to the incumbent Mustafa Al Kadhimi in 2020.

For him to finally assume the job, he would need 165 out of 329 votes in Parliament. That, however, is easier said than done. Supporting him — for now — is the Fateh Alliance of Hadi Al Amiri (17 MPs), the Victory Alliance of ex-Prime Minister Abadi (4 MPs), the National Contract of Faleh Al Fayyad (4 MPs), and of course, Al Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (33 MPs). That adds up to 58 votes, forcing the Coordination Framework to reach out to Sunni MPs, independent Shiites, and Kurds in order to secure the 165-vote majority needed to secure Al Sudani as premier.

The biggest Sunni bloc, Al Taqqadum, is already allied with his rivals in the Sadrist bloc, making its support unlikely. The Coordination Framework can always reach out to Khamis Khanjar, who heads the second largest Sunni bloc, known as the Azem Alliance (14 MPs).

Fault lines have also been drawn between the two major Kurdish blocs: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KPD) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Although nothing is final until spoils are divided between all the major players, the KDP is supporting Sadr with its 31 MPs, while the PUK is poised to back the Coordination Framework.

The Sadr Factor

Although officially out of parliament, Muqtada Al Sadr is the one man who can make or break Al Sudani’s bid for power. Everybody in Iraq knows that, including Al Sudani’s backers in the Coordination Framework.

In fact, they only nominated him for the job after Sadr made it clear that he would never again work with Nouri Al Maliki, who was their first choice for premier.

REG 220222 moqtada Al Sadr-1645532151949
Muqtada Al Sadr is not too fond of Al Sudani, however, considering him a defector from the Sadr family patronage that had first supported him during his years in the Iraqi underground against Saddam.

Sadr and the Coordination Framework have been at daggers-end since the parliamentary elections concluded last October. They were appalled by the drastic defeat that was shouldered by their leaders, with Haidar Abadi losing 38 seats and Amiri’s share dropping by an additional 31.

Within the Shiite community, only two parties made noteworthy gains, being the Sadrist bloc, which won an impressive 73 seats, and Maliki’s State of Law, with got 33 seats.

Sadr tried — with little luck — to impose a premier of his choice, saying that by controlling the largest bloc in parliament, he was fully entitled to naming Iraq’s new prime minister. The Coordination Framework refused to endorse his cousin Jaafar Al Sadr, or deal with a government that was dictated by the Sadrist bloc.

Last June, Sadr instructed his 73 MPs to resign from parliament, hoping that this will bring down the Chamber of Deputies.

It didn’t, however, and its only effect to date has been cementing the Coordination Framework’s claim to holding the largest bloc in Parliament.

With 73 of their opponents now officially out of the chamber, the Coordination Framework nominated Al Maliki for the job, and have now replaced him with Al Sudani.

Sadr is not too fond of Al Sudani, however, considering him a defector from the Sadr family patronage that had first supported him during his years in the Iraqi underground against Saddam.

Securing his support requires a major deal between the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework, which Iran has bene relentlessly trying to negotiate since October.

To date, those negotiations have been unsuccessful, with Sadr insisting on the premiership being held by person of his choice, refusing to deal with any other candidate.