Iraj Masjedi, Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad, met with Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s National Alliance, to discuss the latest security and political developments in Iraq. According to Iranian and Iraqi media, Masjedi, the former deputy chief of Iran’s Quds Force, and Hakim, a prominent Iraqi politician and cleric who recently established the Wisdom Party, also explored ways of further boosting ties and cooperation between the two countries.  According to a statement released by the National Alliance, the meeting took place in Hakim’s office in Baghdad, and other key issues discussed at the meeting included Tehran-Baghdad cooperation on regional conflicts and the Iraqi reconstruction process. It was not clear what Masjedi said at the meeting as the statement only quoted Hakim’s remarks. Masjedi is the third consecutive Quds Force commander appointed as Iran’s ambassador to post-Saddam Iraq.

Comment: Iraq’s parliamentary elections slated for May 12 were most likely toped the meeting agenda. In recent months, Tehran and its allies in Iraq have stepped up efforts not only to consolidate their latest military gains but also translate them into political power and are setting their sights on the upcoming elections.

Several prominent Iranian-backed Shiite groups within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) recently formed the Fatah Alliance to compete in the elections. Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, is head of the new coalition which also includes other Iranian-supported groups such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iraqi Hezbollah.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s announcement on forming an coalition with the Fatah Alliance triggered angry reactions and deep concerns inside and outside Iraq. Shiite Iraqi nationalist leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr denounced the political alliance. But the alliance fell apart after a day. Soon, Hakim’s Wisdom Party also withdrew from Abadi’s Victory for Iran political coalition, although the two sides have indicated they may come together again after the vote.

Now the Fatah coalition and Hakim’s party are reportedly in talks over a potential coalition after the elections. According to Iran’s Fars News Agency, Hakim met with Amiri and other leaders of the Fatah coalition on Wednesday to discuss the elections. The Fars report added that Hakim’s Wisdom Party and Amiri’s Fatah Alliance will independently run in the elections but are likely to form a coalition after the polls. But Hakim has stated no such plans yet.

The participation of Iran-backed militia leaders has provoked concern among Iraqi Sunnis who have been persecuted and marginalized by these sectarian  groups in the past. Shiite nationalist leaders and civil society groups in Iraq are also alarmed. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Jarida recently wrote that the Amiri-led alliance is an Iranian effort to impose its will on Iraq. It added that the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba "constitute the nucleus of the Mujahideen Alliance” – referring to the initial name of the coalition.

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