Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Sadrist Watershed

One of the most notable aspects of the recent Iraqi elections has been the electoral success of the Sadrists. Led by the enigmatic young cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Sadrist list formed part of the large, loose alliance of Shi'i religious parties known as the Iraqi National Alliance. The fact that the Sadrist list won 39 out of the coalition's 70 seats has put it in a position to play kingmaker of the next government, and will likely have a marked effect on the next government's program.

Oil policy and relations with the US are two areas where the Sadrist contingent could play a significant role in the next government's program. It is not secret that the Sadr has been one of the most vociferous opponents to the US project in Iraq since 2003. His 39 seats in parliament may be enough to break a governing coalition that shows signs of being too chummy with the Obama administration. For instance, there had been rumors that some in the Iraqi leadership had wanted to slow down the American withdrawal, even postpone it indefinitely. If any future PM pulls a stunt like that, he can expect to see Sadr's 39 MPs walk out.

Oil policy is another important aspect of the next government's program that the Sadrist trend has been highly critical of. The current hydrocarbon legislation is deadlocked (really two competing Kurdish and Ministry of Oil sponsored bills that appear to be irreconciliable), and likely has no chance of passing in its current form as long as the Sadrists have a say about it. The Sadrists have expressed a strong current of resource nationalism, are suspicious of foreign oil companies operating in Iraq, and vehemently oppose the use of Production Sharing Agreements (in which oil companies acquire equity in Iraqi oil). The Kurdish draft law actively encourages them, while the centralized Ministry of Oil draft version doesn't explicitly prohibit them (none of the recent oil deals signed between the central government and international oil companies have used the controversial PSA as their contract model). In short, passing any type of neoliberal hydrocarbon law is a pipe dream as long as the Sadrists control 39 seats in parliament, and will have a great amount of leverage in terms of selecting the next prime minister. Undoubtedly, one can expect the policies of the upcoming government to be decidedly more nationalist in nature.

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