BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday he would stand for re-election in May at the head of a new coalition, buoyed by victory over the Islamic State group.
Abadi’s newly created “Victory Alliance” will face the “State of Law” bloc of Nuri al-Maliki, his predecessor, key rival and Shiite Dawa party co-member who now holds the post of vice president.
The 65-year-old Abadi was little known when he became prime minister three years ago, after Maliki ceded power to him in August 2014 amid political and sectarian chaos and a sweeping offensive by IS.
In December, Abadi declared victory in the three-year war by Iraqi forces to expel the militants from vast swathes of territory they had seized north and west of Baghdad – nearly one third of the country.
Since taking over, the prime minister has also rebuilt the crumbling armed forces, taken back disputed areas in the north from the Kurds and torpedoed their hopes for independence.
He has also succeeded in persuading the Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shiite-dominated paramilitary force which helped fight IS, to join his “Victory Alliance” which he describes as a “cross-sectarian” list.
The Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Units, now seeks to be a key political player in Iraq as well after proving itself to be a formidable force on the battlefield against IS.
Several Hashed commanders have already shed their military fatigues for civilian clothes to join the “Victory Alliance” for the May 12 parliamentary election.
Ahmad al-Kinani, spokesman for a list led by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the militias under the Hashed umbrella, told AFP that after “long negotiations” Abadi had won the support of 18 lists, including two led by key former Hashed commanders.
Iraq is made up of 18 provinces and has a 328-seat parliament of deputies who serve four-year terms, elected in their constituencies by proportional representation.
Abadi, one of the rare Shiite politicians who enjoys grassroot support among the country’s Sunni minority, said on Saturday that his alliance is aimed at overcoming divisions in Iraq.
The alliance, said the 65-year-old premier, would strive to “protect the victory and the sacrifices” of the Iraqi people and to “fight against corruption … and for the unity of Iraq”.
The goal of consolidating Iraqi unity has been at the centre of Abadi’s premiership. It took centre stage late last year when he sent troops to retake disputed Kurdish-held positions and categorically opposed an independence vote in the autonomous Kurdish region.
Kurds, who currently hold 60 seats in the Baghdad-based federal parliament, will enter the May election divided.
Their two historic parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, submitted a joint list at the 2014 election but will now go their separate ways.
Several Kurdish officials have also voiced their opposition to the Hashed al-Shaabi.
Iraq’s main three opposition parties have, however, decided to form one common list.
Abadi’s predecessor Maliki, under whose rule IS’s 2014 rampage took place, is also standing in the election on a separate list, his “State of Law” alliance.
The move seems to indicate deep cracks within the Shiite Dawa party to which both Abadi and Maliki belong.
Dawa, a historic opponent of the late Saddam Hussein, has held Iraq’s premiership since 2006, three years after the dictator was ousted in a US-led invasion.
In the previous parliamentary election of 2014, “State of Law” took most of the votes.
Maliki’s spokesman, Abbas al-Mussawi, told AFP that Dawa backs both lists.
“The fact that two lists are being put forth does not mean a clash between two people, but a confrontation between visions, programmes and different alliances,” Mussawi said.
“The Dawa party has adopted both lists and there is no pressure being imposed on us, not from Iran or the United States,” he said.
However, political analyst Essam Fila told AFP he expected Iran to play an “important role” in the election and would ensure that “even Sunni factions back the Shiite alliances”.