Political Attributes of Iraqi Election Show Deeper Resentments


Photo source: Financial Times
By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

Eighteen years have passed since United States invaded Iraq, and ousted a Baathist dictator. As the fifth general election since then concluded, Iraq’s political system is still dominated by guns.

Iraqi law prohibits any political party, from having armed wings, but several groups openly violate this measure. The Fatah alliance, for example, brings together dozens of Shia militias including Kata’ib Hezbollah, as does the Shia populist movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr. There is also an illicit flow of money that comes with these elections.

No regional party in the election, however, had put any political platforms. Rather, they were appealing to the voters on the basis of religious, ethnic and tribal loyalty. The election result hinted that major established parties were on the losing track. The voter turnout was also reduced to an all-time low, since the 2003 election.

Fatah, an alliance of parties linked to militia groups from al-Hashd al-Shaabi and headed by the leader of the Badr Organisation Hadi al-Ameri, won far less seats that they had won during the 2018 election. Some have argued that this is the result of their campaign strategy which focused on the Hashd's role in defeating Islamic State, rather than protesters' demands such as services and an end to corruption. What this, at the same time, also indicates is that the Iraqi public is no longer easily swayed by political rhetoric that pits one sect against another.

The Imtidad movement also got fewer seats, despite an increasing vote share, signifying a popularity of the new protest parties. The reasons for not winning enough seats, critics argue, are some flaws within the new elections law, which is based on a first-past-the-post system where citizens vote directly for a candidate in a particular district and the most votes win.

The strategy of granting governmental favours is also no longer viable now, as it hardly ever materialises. This fact can be understood with the case of one of the candidates for the State of Law coalition, Haytham al-Jabouri, who had promised 206,000 jobs to teachers on temporary contracts in the run-up to elections, but nevertheless lost the seat. Fatah and its allies also promised 30,000 temporary jobs to Hashd fighters, but it didn’t prove as a vantage point.

Sadrists, however, managed to increase their vote share, due to strong political tactics, by using the anti-militia rhetoric, which remains deceptive.

One of the reasons Sadr’s populism had gotten support is because of his adversarial stance of Western powers, especially the lingering US presence in Iraq. But his foreign interference logic, is a bit flawed, too. He is seen regularly in Iran, despite condemning it for meddling in Iraq’s affairs. And, after supporting the 2019 Tishreen movement, he called off his support due to Iran’s insistence. He even backtracked from boycotting of the election earlier. His flip flopping on these matters did cost him some followers at that point.

The independent candidates also won big. They had started to form a separate opposition bloc in mid-October 2021, trying to represent a cross-sectarian Iraqi opposition movement, beyond ethno-sectarian divides, and intending to serve the Iraqi people, before the interests of the political elite. The success of the independents, however, would depend upon how they would co-ordinate with each other, and in resisting the temptation to form an alliance with ethno sectarian parties for the longer term.

The protest movement, emerged since 2019, calls for an identity based on secular nationalism and united Iraqi identity, but it had split later on to whether participate in the elections because they were unsure whether it was the best avenue for the political change. Now as elections are done, many common Iraqis also believe that as October 2021 elections were been organised by same old leaders, they ought not to be trusted, and that Iraqi flag continues to fly more as a habit and less for a change.

The resentment for Iran also remains high, despite being dependent on its oil, gas and for a vast range of goods and materials that support Iraqi industries. As Iraqis believe that the country has been converted into an Iranian satellite, due to its glaring and unambiguous interference, Iranian puppeteers in Iraq by many are seen as regressive, diehard and resistant to reforms.

The new government would likely need Sadr’s approval, as in the past. According to Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at Century International and director of the Shia Politics Working Group: ‘Sadr claims that the next government will be a Sadrist one and the prime minister a staunch Sadrist and it may become a reality, but other partners will be needed to form a government and the risk of taking sole responsibility for government failures may mean that he accepts a coalition that reduces the Sadrist identity of the government.’

The outcome of the elections and the new structure of the parliament is of great importance to Ankara as well, which seeks to maintain close relations with different factions in Iraqi politics, in order to preserve its national and strategic interests. The parties of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Regional Government region, which are also crucial power brokers, enjoy close relations with Ankara, too. This development can alter Iran’s rising influence in the region.

After the election, what remain at the heart of the matter are the political problems which are hyperbolising social and economic stigma. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, the number of suicides per year has been steadily increasing since 2016, especially among young people. Infrastructure also lies in disrepair and healthcare, education and electricity are inadequate.

Many argue that the origins of the crises remain in the violence practiced not only by the state, but also by non-state actors who have done assassinations, kidnappings, and open murders of protesters in broad daylight. Free speech in Iraq is also under dire threat, and many activists have had to flee either to the Kurdish Region of Iraq or outside the country.


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