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Iraq’s First Post-ISIS Elections: The Hopes and Fears

Gilgamesh_nabeel
2018 / 5 / 24

The final results of Iraq’s first election since the defeat of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, in July 2017, have been announced now. This has replaced many hopes with fears.

This election presented many surprises to Iraqis. It might be the first one where many of the 27 competing alliances, composed of 190 political parties, were inter-sectarian. For the first time, we saw Shiite-led alliances running in Sunni and Kurdish cities, and more surprisingly, an Islamic-Secular alliance between the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Communists. The traditional coalitions based on religious and ethnic belongings have not disappeared, but they were much less obvious since 2005.

This disruption of the old system made many Iraqis feel optimist. The news of a communist female candidate, Haifaa al-Amin, advancement in Nasiriyah--;-- the victory of a strong woman who does wear hijab in Iraq’s southern governorate is an optimistic sign for sure. This can be supported by news of another female communist candidate leading in Najaf. Those were among 2014 female candidates out of a total of 7000 candidates, the highest number of female candidates since 2005. In Nineveh, the city liberated from ISIS only last year also born some surprises, that is Al-Abadi’s list ranked first with 7 seats – out of 34 – besides a secular list guaranteeing a seat. This was accompanied by a defeat of the traditional parties in Mosul as a way of punishment from their community blaming them of what had happened to Iraq’s second largest city over the past three years.

However, among these few positive things, many fears rose up after the announcement of the partial results. First of all, the turnout was the lowest since Iraq’s first election in 2005 after the U.S-led invasion in 2003. The Independent High Electoral Commission announced it was 44.52 percent, while other estimates put it at 19.32 percent. Those who boycotted the process worked hard to spread their goal on the social media. They expressed their being desperate of not seeing a real change besides their will to undermine the election’s legitimacy, although nothing in the Constitution stipulate the necessity of the participation of a certain percent of the population in order to pass the elections.

Against all expectations the current Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s Victory list did not lead in the race. Experts expected that no alliance would get a restful majority and a hard long process to form the coming government. However, the surprising advance of the Sadrist-Communist alliance as well as the militia-dominated Iranian-backed al-Fateh list put us in front of a new scary reality.

The approximate results the big parties got made the scene more complicated. Post-election alliances seem inevitable to form the government. This brings to me the scene of 2010 elections.

At the time, the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya List slightly exceeded the seats Al-Maliki’s list got. However, a post-election alliance took the chance from Allawi to form the government. Allawi accepted that after promises to get a prestigious position and Al-Maliki became Iraq’s premier. That led to complicated problems with the Sunnis, who wanted to form their own federations and the Kurds over oil revenues. The situations got much more complicate ahead of 2014 elections and Al-Maliki’s insistence to stay in office for a third term. That ended in the catastrophe of ISIS overrunning one third of Iraq in June 2014.

On contrary, 2018 Elections seems different. The low turnout and the scattered results would make forming the government much more difficult if not impossible. al-Sadr’s Sa’iroon List surprisingly slightly led the results--;-- however forming alliances with other lists seem thorny. Iran might gather all its allies to keep its influence over Iraq. The militia-oriented lists could fight each other if they did not achieve the power. al-Sadr, unlike Allawi, would not leave his electoral achievement easily for others and his supporters might be ready to fight for him. In 2008, when al-Maliki’s Knights Charge was launched against the militias, thousands of policemen refused to fight al-Sadr’s militant groups.

These fears are already shown possible with a bomb hit Najaf a day after the election and the attacks on one of al-Sadr’s institutions in Maysan. I can see these as veto messages from regional powers against al-Sadr’s tweet in which he included hints for the names of many Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and secular lists, and obviously excluded the Iranian backed al-Fateh List and Al-Maliki’s State of Law List. That tweet was applauded by Thamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Gulf Affairs.

I think there is a possible coalition between al-Fateh List of Hadi Al-Ameri, which depends in its popularity on the achievements of the Popular Mobilization in fighting ISIS, and al-Maliki’s list. Al-Hikma list of Ammar Al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council, with its 22 seats so far, might join them under Iranian pressure to rearrange the traditional Shiite House to guarantee the continuation of its influence over Iraq. However, even if this alliance is formed, they will still need al-Abadi and al-Sadr to join them in order to get the majority. This seems almost as impossible as getting the support of other factions, namely the Sunnis and Kurds, both of them have deep problems with al-Maliki and much fears from al-Ameri.

In my opinion, we are now facing two options, the best of which is bitter. The first is to see the same old alliance of all Shiite powers, which means a full domination over the society and the death of any hope of change towards a secular Iraq away from foreign influence. The second is reaching a deadlock in forming the government that might lead to conflicts in Baghdad and southern Iraq as all the competing parties have strong armed-wings.

The senior officer of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qasem Soleimani’s mission to bring the Shiite parties together seems both impossible and crucial to Iran. After Trump’s decision to cancel the Nuclear Deal with Tehran and the fall in Iran’s currency, Iraq becomes more crucial for Iran to economically support itself through bank transactions and smuggling through Iraq. The hit came rapid when USA put Aras Habib, the chairman of al-Bilad Islamic Bank, along with Iran’s Central Bank on terror list for money laundering to help the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Ironically, this person ran as the fourth candidate in al-Abadi’s list in Baghdad. I think this is an in--dir--ect American warning for al-Abadi against entering in an alliance with the Iranian-supported coalition.

In addition to all these terrifying scenarios, there was disappointment among many displaced people who tried to vote in Kurdistan. I talked to two of my friends, originally from Mosul, who were unable to vote after visiting many polling centers because of the lack of poll forms, the slow process, and finally, the closure of the centers without extension.
There are many talks on falsifying the results at displaced camps´-or-buying their votes and many videos showing that were spread online. This changed the results making the Kurdish Democratic Party the second list in Nineveh, while in Kirkuk, calls to recount have been heard after the Kurds ranked first followed by Arabs and Turkmen, the latter assume to form the majority in the oil-rich city.

The quotas for minorities were not outside the big parties’ conflict sphere. While 75 candidates competed over 5 seats for Christians, and 51 candidates competed over a seat for the Yazidis, those who won the seats have links with the big parties, including two Christian candidates supported by the popular mobilization and the big Shiite parties. This left many Christians disappointed.

The voters outside Iraq surprisingly helped many notable former parliament members, who were strongly defeated inside Iraq, to regain their seats again. One of them is said to have gotten only 46 votes from inside and then got 7,000 votes from abroad. This was not passed without suspicions of falsification from many observers.

Internationally and regionally, this election is a big test for the real dominant power in shaping this country’s future: Iraqis themselves, Iran´-or-USA. Personally, as an Iraqi citizen, I hope to see a real Iraqi government that would be able to fight corruption, provide better services, guarantee all its citizens’ rights and ensure peace and stability in this war-torn country.








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