One of the leaders of the pro-Iranian coalition known in Iraq as the 'Framework for Coordination', Ammar al-Hakim, travelled to Riyadh in mid-August to ask for mediation by the Saudi government in the long-running and serious political crisis that Iraq has been experiencing since its last elections.
In the last elections, the cleric Mudqtada al-Saadr won a pyrrhic victory, emerging as the most voted candidate to head the government. But a lack of votes in the Iraqi lower house prevented him from being appointed head of government. His support gradually waned due to the largely Iranian-driven instability in the autonomous northern Kurdish province.
After the Framework for Coordination, the coalition of pro-Iranian parties, announced that its candidate, Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, would seek the presidency, al-Saadr's supporters blocked the roads to that stage with strong mobilisations that resulted in the storming of the parliament
In this situation of political deadlock, one of the leaders of the Coordination Framework has reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia, Iran's main geopolitical rival in the region. Ammar al-Hakim, a Shiite from a long line of Iraqi clerics, has always been very close to power in Tehran. He spent virtually his entire upbringing in the capital of the Ayatollahs because of his family's exile under Saddam Hussein's government, which executed seven of his relatives. Back in Iraq, he was active in political life until he became president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a puppet political party of Iran.
Al-Hakim arrived at Jeddah International Airport on Thursday night and was received with honours and an official reception led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Foreign Minister Walid bin Abdul Karim.
Given his background and the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, al-Hakim's visit to Jeddah is initially surprising. According to international observers and analysts quoted by the London-based Arab media al-Arab, the visit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to end the Iraqi political stalemate. According to the same sources, the Coordination Framework would go to Riyadh to convince al-Saadr to soften his position and agree on a date to open channels of dialogue with the winner of the elections.
The Coordination Framework would even be willing to work with the interim prime minister, Mustafa al-Kazemi, despite having repeatedly attacked him during the election campaign and after the results.
Publicly, al-Hakim has preferred to portray his visit to Jeddah as a cordial meeting to address a wide range of issues, including the Shia leader's communication admits that the political stalemate in Iraq was discussed. "We praised the development plans of His Highness the Crown Prince, especially the Kingdom's Vision 2030, and the positive impact of these plans on the countries of the region in general and Iraq in particular. We discussed the developments in the Iraqi arena and emphasised that dialogue between the various parties is the best way to reach satisfactory solutions to the current political stalemate in Iraq," al-Hakim announced via his Twitter account. "We emphasised that solutions must remain Iraqi without external pressures," he added, referring to foreign influences in Iraq.
التقينا في مستهل زيارتنا إلى المملكة العربية السعودية الشقيقة سمو ولي العهد الأمير محمد بن سلمان ، حيث أكدنا في اللقاء على العلاقات التاريخية الوثيقة بين الشعبين الشقيقين وسبل تعزيزها وتوثيقها. pic.twitter.com/KXkjyezq3U— Ammar Al-Hakim | عمار الحكيم (@Ammar_Alhakeem) August 19, 2022
Aid al-Hilali, al-Hakim's colleague in the Framework for Coordination, also made a statement to the Iraqi news agency, directly linking al-Hakim's visit to an attempt to unblock the stalemate in Iraq. Al-Hilali assured the media that the Saudi Arabia of today is not the Saudi Arabia of the past and that the links between his government and the movement of the cleric al-Saadr may help convince the winner of the elections to reach an agreement.
These statements could be interpreted as suggesting that at least the political leaders of the Framework for Coordination intend to maintain the best possible relations with Saudi Arabia while remaining under the Iranian shadow. The fragility of Iraq's economy and energy infrastructure at the moment necessitates Saudi Arabia's investment involvement, the best possible partner for Iraq's development.
If Saudi Arabia were to intervene to push the Saadrist movement towards a way out, a new election could be expected to be called within a year, on the assumption that new results would bring a run-off in parliament and make possible the election of a prime minister.