BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s Parliament swore in dozens of new lawmakers on Thursday, replacing 73 legislators loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, strengthening the power of rival Iran-backed Shiite factions in the assembly.
The 73 had resigned collectively earlier this month amid a prolonged political impasse over the formation of the country's next government. The unprecedented walkout, based on a request from al-Sadr, threw Iraq into further uncertainty, reshuffling the deck following the Oct. 10 elections, which gave him the biggest bloc in Parliament.
Although he emerged as a winner, al-Sadr has been locked in a power struggle with internal Shiite rivals backed by Iran and was unable to cobble together a coalition that can form a majority government.
Two weeks ago, he ordered lawmakers from his parliamentary bloc to resign in a bid to break the eight-month impasse. The move threw Iraq’s political landscape into disarray.
According to Iraqi laws, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number of votes in their electoral district would replace them. In this case, it made al-Sadr’s opponents from the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties and their allies, the majority with around 122 seats.
It puts al-Sadr out of parliament for the first time since 2005, and allows pro-Iranian factions to determine the makeup of the next government.
“Today, the first step has been completed, which is the replacement deputies taking the oath," said Lawmaker Muhammad Saadoun Sayhod, from the Rule of Law coalition represented in the Framework.
“We will now start the process of electing the president and naming the prime minister from the Coordination Framework,” he said, adding he expected the formation of a new government to begin soon.
There was no immediate reaction from al-Sadr to the swearing in of new lawmakers. There remain concerns the political deadlock could lead to renewed protests and street clashes between supporters of al-Sadr and their Shiite rivals.
Even though Parliament is in recess, lawmakers mostly from the Framework alliance called for an extraordinary session Thursday to vote on the new lawmakers. Sixty-four lawmakers were sworn in, while nine other replacements did not attend.
On Wednesday, al-Sadr accused Iranian proxies of political meddling. He also accused them of applying pressure against newly elected political independents and allies of his Sadrist bloc.
He called on parliamentarians not to succumb to pressure.
“I call on blocs to stand bravely for the sake of reform and saving the nation, and not to give in to sectarian pressures, as they are bubbles which will disappear,” he said in a statement.
Munaf Al-Musawi, a political analyst and director of the Baghdad Center for Strategic Studies, said the fight for government posts will now begin. Once a government is formed, he said al-Sadr's supporters could take to the streets, leading to clashes with Shiite rivals.
“What comes next is more difficult,” he said. With Coordination Framework and its allies now in control of Parliament, al-Sadr and his allies will pay the price for their walkout, he added.
Iraq’s election was held several months earlier than expected, in response to mass protests that broke out in late 2019 and saw tens of thousands rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.