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    Iraqi Shiite cleric and leader Moqtada al-Sadr (C-L) shows his ink-stained index finger and holds a national flag while surrounded by people outside a polling station in the central holy city of Najaf on May 12, 2018 as the country votes in the first parliamentary election since declaring victory over the Islamic State (IS) group

    Shiite Parties’ Win in Iraqi Parliamentary Vote is Victory For Iran – Analysts

    © AFP 2018 / Haidar HAMDANI
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    The outcome of the May 12 parliamentary vote in Iraq plays directly into the hands of Tehran, analysts told Sputnik predicting that Iran's influence in the region would increase as Iraq's leading Shiite parties are about to take the majority of the seats in the country's parliament.

    The success of Shiite parties in the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections was predictable from the outset, analysts told Sputnik Persian, stressing that they have long enjoyed support from Iran.

    "The outcome of the parliamentary elections… was obvious, since Shiite Muslims constitute the majority of the population of Iraq," says Emad Abshenas, the editor-in-chief of the Iran Daily newspaper, chairman of NGO International and leader of the Iranian Reporters Without Borders group. "Daesh [ISIS/ISIL]* destroyed infrastructure in many regions of the country with a predominantly Sunni population. Many residents fled, so, unfortunately, not all of them were able to vote."

    According to Abshenas, Shiite blocs will take the majority of seats in the country's parliament. However, he believes that it has nothing to do with the parties' close ties with Iran: The Iraqi population has long supported pro-Iran political forces in the country. 

    "Today, the Iraqis hate the Americans, being frustrated with their policies," the Iranian journalist highlighted. "Let's not forget that the Americans killed over 200,000 Iraqis, while 1.5 million people were injured during the [US] military campaign [of 2003-2011]. Daesh's presence in Iraq has increased the hatred for the US on the part of both Shiite Muslims and Sunnis."

    The journalist underscored that one should not expect that Iraqis turn to the US in the near future since they still regard the Americans as invaders and occupants.

    In contrast, the Iraqi population trusts Tehran: It was the Islamic Republic that provided military aid to the government of Haidar al-Abadi amid its fight against Daesh, Abshenas noted, predicting that the two countries are likely to further boost their collaboration.

    Boris Dolgov, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, agrees that Iranian influence continues to grow in Iraq.

    The academic stressed that the previous government of Iraq was represented by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and his followers who were "in many ways guided by Iran." The second group, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, is also pro-Iranian, he said Moreover, al-Sadr's Sairun movement fought against American military forces at the time of the US occupation of Iraq, Dolgov recalled.

    According to the academic, al-Sadr's movement enjoys sufficient influence in Iraq, opposing corruption. Earlier, Sairun used to hold demonstrations opposing the ruling elite under the Nouri al-Maliki government. "Today, this movement, which has good relations and contacts with Iran, is part of the majority that will be represented in the Iraqi parliament," Dolgov stressed.

    He noted that Iraq has undergone a serious political crisis triggered by Daesh terror actions and social-economic problems in the country including corruption and unemployment. The Iraqi Kurdistan independence issue was yet another bone of contention. The aforementioned problems paved the way for new political leaders.

    Dolgov opined that al-Sadr's victory is in the interest of Tehran.

    "Iran supports [the Sairun] movement and the Shiite community as a whole in Iraq," he said. "Therefore, the growth of Iran's influence in Iraq is predictable. Along with Hezbollah's success in Lebanon where it won a significant number of seats in the parliament, it should be noted that Iranian concepts are popular in the Muslim world, especially among the Shiites."

    Additionally, Iran's uncompromised position in regard to the US policies in the region, including the May 14 US Embassy transfer to Jerusalem, also adds to its popularity in Iraq.

    "Iran's tough position plays a role in the growing strength of pro-Iranian Shiite movements in Iraq," Dolgov suggested. "Iran offers an alternative to how the problems in Iraq have been solved so far."

    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2017
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2017

    However, an Iraqi analyst specializing in international law, Ali al-Tamimi, does not share Abshenas and Dolgov's stance: According to al-Tamimi, al-Sadr's victory could diminish Iran's influence in the region, as the politician is seeking to pursue an independent foreign policy and expand Baghdad's ties with neighboring Arab countries. At the same time, it is likely that Washington will try to meddle in the formation of the Iraqi government.

    "The results of the elections deal a blow to Iran's influence in Iraq," he opined. "[Hadi al-Amiri's] Fatah Coalition and Nouri al-Maliki were defeated. Therefore, I think that the Americans will benefit from the elections and they will be able to significantly influence the composition of the future government. Of course, Tehran will not sit idly by, but will take every effort to strengthen its influence."

    With a voter turnout of 44.52 percent, which amounts to 10.7 million people, al-Sadr's Sairun is likely to get 54 out of 329 seats. The Sairun alliance is leading while the Iran-backed Hadi al-Amiri's Fatah (Conquest) Coalition and al-Abadi's Nasr coalition came in second and third, respectively. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the head of the pro-Iranian State of Law Coalition, ranked fourth.

    *Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia.

    The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    2003 invasion of Iraq, elections, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Muqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East
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