ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Controversial Iranian general Qassem Soleimani is in talks with Shia leaders in Baghdad after a partial announcement of election results, a source familiar with the talks told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday.
Soleimani, in charge of the external operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, worked closely with Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militias in the war against the Islamic State (IS) and has become emblematic of Iranian influence in Baghdad.
"[Qassem] Soleimani just arrived in Baghdad," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Kurdistan 24. "His visit coincided with the announcement of the election results."
Iraqi national elections were held on Saturday and 44 percent of eligible voters headed to the polls, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).
According to IHEC announcements, Moqtada al-Sadr is the winner. A Shi'ite cleric with far fewer ties to Tehran than Soleimani's clear preferred victor, Al-Fatih Coalition leader Hadi al-Amiri, Sadr has often proved politically unpredictable. He cannot become prime minister since he did not personally run in the election, but the fact that those within his party hold a large number of seats could put him in a position to pick someone for the job.
Amiri is in second place, and current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is listed as the third place vote-getter.
The electoral success of Sadr's coalition is a surprise even to his closest rivals, especially Al-Fatih which, with its Iranian support, was forecast by most political observers to the main threat to Abadi serving a second term as Iraq's top politician.
"I think Mr. Jaafari is the first person Soleimani met in Baghdad," the source said, referring to Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "The consultations are focused on the formation of the next government."
He said that Soleimani appeared to be trying to persuade Amiri to ally himself with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law Coalition.
"It seems that they want to isolate Sadr," by forming a parliamentary bloc among his rivals that would contain enough seats to overtake his majority, said the source.
Winning the largest number of seats for Sadr does not at all guarantee he will become the prime minister, as other winning blocs must agree on who will run, and parties can switch alliances multiple times in the runup to government formation.
Many expect a repeat of what occurred in 2010 when Iyad Allawi won the largest number of seats but was bested by incumbent Maliki who was able to form the largest parliamentary bloc.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said two months earlier that Tehran would not allow "liberals and communists" to rule in Iraq, referring to Sadr's alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party and other secular groups.
In July 2017, Sadr made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other officials, a move that angered Iran and its allies in Iraq.
On Sunday, the United Nations urged political actors in Iraq to peacefully resolve electoral issues through established legal channels as accusations of electoral fraud mount in several provinces in the country.