By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraq's Supreme Court on Monday ratified the results of an October parliamentary election and rejected appeals lodged by Iran-backed Shi'ite factions, derailing their attempt to overturn a vote in which they performed poorly.
The ruling allows the newly elected parliament to convene at last, and sets the stage for intensified negotiations to replace outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and his cabinet.
Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a foe of both Iranian and U.S. influence in Iraq, emerged as the biggest winner, with 73 of parliament's 329 seats. The Tehran-aligned bloc, which includes powerful armed groups, saw their representation slump to just 17 seats from 48 in 2018.
Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Iran-backed Shi'ite political coalition Fatah, issued a statement pledging to abide by the court ruling. Asaib Ahl Al Haq, an armed group that is part of the Fatah coalition, expressed disappointment at the ruling, without saying if it would seek to challenge it.
Reuters reported last week that Iran has been intervening in Iraq https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-seeks-cool-tensions-iraq-2021-12-22 to quell destabilising internal unrest stirred up by Iranian-backed militias.
Reading Monday's ruling, Chief judge Jassim Mohammed said that objections to the result, regardless of their basis, were undermining the value of the vote, weakening voters' confidence, and derailing the political process. The ruling was final and binding on all authorities, he said.
Under Iraq’s constitution, President Barham Salih should now call the new parliament into session within 15 days.
Since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled minority Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqi governments have been dominated by parties from the Shi'ite majority, in coalitions that have included Kurdish parties.
Sadr has said he will ally himself with whoever puts Iraq’s national interests first. That is an indication, Iraqi officials and Western diplomats say, that he may exclude some Iran-backed Shi'ite groups in favour of parties with cross-sectarian support.
The elections were held earlier than scheduled in response to huge street demonstrations two years ago against corruption and foreign influence, put down violently by security forces backed by pro-Iran armed groups.
Tehran is seeking to preserve its deep influence in its neighbour while also navigating tense negotiations over its nuclear ambitions with the United States.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Writing by Tom Perry;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, John Stonestreet, Peter Graff)