Iran’s Gen. Soleimani holds talks about future Iraqi cabinet

Reuters – Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new Iraqi cabinet which would have Iran’s approval, two people familiar with the political process underway in Iraq said on Wednesday.

Gen. Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, arrived in Iraq on Saturday, the day of the parliamentary election.

Initial nationwide results showed a surprise victory for the bloc that supports populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shia not aligned with Iran who campaigned on a nationalist platform, tapping into public resentment against widespread corruption and huge social disparities.

Gen. Soleimani is holding talks with rival politicians to pave the way for an agreement to form a Shia ruling coalition, said a person acting as an intermediary between Sadr, other senior politicians and a Shi’ite candidate.

Formal talks to set up a governing coalition will start after the announcement of the final results, expected later this week.

Before the election, Iran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc – an unlikely alliance of Shias, communists and other secular groups – to govern.

For his part, Sadr has made clear he is unwilling to compromise with Iran by forming a coalition with its main allies, Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr paramilitary group, and former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

A tally by Reuters of provincial results announced over the past three days shows Sadr’s list leading, followed by Amiri, a close ally of Iran and a friend of Gen. Soleimani, and then outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Abadi managed to rally the support of both Iran and the United States in Iraq’s three-year war on Islamic State.

Saturday’s election was the first since the defeat last year of the militants who had overran a third of Iraq in 2014. Gen. Soleimani’s Quds Force is the main foreign backer of Amiri’s Badr, which served as the backbone of Popular Mobilisation, a volunteers force set up to fight Islamic State.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Editing by William Maclean