ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Enigmatic Iraqi cleric and top vote-getter in Saturday's national parliamentary election Muqtada al-Sadr released statements on Wednesday which appeared to criticise efforts by Iran to influence post-election dealmaking.
Sadr announced on social media that he "rejected any foreign intervention in the efforts to form a new government."
In another post, he said would work with other political parties, "as long as they are not occupiers of our country, both for occupation and for domination."
The statements come at a time when Qassem Soleimani, who leads the external operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, is reportedly in talks with Shia leaders in Baghdad to help shore up alliances against Sadr, a staunch critic of both Iranian and US influence in Iraq.
Soleimani has become a symbol of Tehran's long reach in Baghdad. He worked closely with Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militias in the war against the Islamic State (IS) and strongly supports PMF leader Hadi al-Amiri's Fatih Coalition, which came in second place in the election.
Sadr's Sayirun party boasts the most votes in preliminary counts released by Iraq's electoral commission, but he cannot become prime minister since he did not personally run as a candidate. The fact that those within his party hold a large number of seats could put him in a position to pick someone else for the job.
This, however, depends on whether or not he is successful in forming alliances with enough other major parties to reach the critical mass of parliamentary seats needed for the chosen prime minister to form a government.
On Tuesday, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Kurdistan 24 that Soleimani was trying to convince Amiri and Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, both with close ties to Tehran, to form a coalition with other lists to isolate Sadr.
According to a second source who spoke to Kurdistan 24 and who is familiar with the political process, "Soleimani's efforts aimed mainly to form the largest bloc apart from Sadr... did not seem to succeed this time."
Sadr has signaled that he is interested in forming an alliance with all winning lists except Amari's Fatih Coalition and Maliki's State of Law Coalition.
On Wednesday, a State of Law spokesperson claimed talks were in the final stages for it to create a coalition which would form the next Iraqi government, adding that they are awaiting the arrival of a Kurdish delegation to Baghdad to discuss the matter.
Sadr, who has long criticized the rampant corruption of Iraqi officials, also called on leaders of the current alliances to meet, saying, "My door is open and my hands are extended to build our Iraq and form a government of honest and patriarchal technocrats."
Since the fall of the former regime, Iraq has adopted a complex method of governance that requires parliamentary alliances aimed at preventing the return of dictatorial rule.
Head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Riyadh al-Badran told reporters on Wednesday that the final election results will be announced within two days.
According to the Iraqi Constitution, after the results are certified, Iraqi President Fuad Masum is required to call the new parliament to convene within 15 days.
Lawmakers then elect a speaker and two deputies by an absolute majority in the first session and then elect a new president by a two-thirds majority within 30 days of the first meeting. The new president nominates a candidate for prime minister from the largest bloc in parliament to form a government. If he is not able to, the president must then nominate another candidate.