Initial results suggesting Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr had won more seats than expected in Iraq’s election Sunday may not shake a view that the poll will change little – in Baghdad or the region.
Even with the 73 seats claimed by a Sadr spokesman would leave him a minority in the 329-strong parliament with the likelihood of weeks if not months of horse-trading before a prime minister and government are appointed.
While not running for parliament, former intelligence chief Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been expected to seek a second term in the post he assumed in May 2020 as a consensus figure least antagonistic to other leaders.
In a reflection of Iran’s influence in its neighbor, Iraq’s Shafaq daily Monday quoted a government source that General Esmail Ghaani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) extra-territorial al-Quds group, had met officials and leaders in Baghdad within 24 hours of polls closing to discuss next steps.
The election turnout was put at just 41 percent of 25 million voters by the country’s electoral commission, the lowest of any parliamentary election since the United-States-led 2003 invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein.
Response to protests
The election was called in belated response to the ‘Tishreen’ (October) protests in 2019, in which 600 people were killed, but few expect the poll, contested by over 100 parties and blocs, to lead to the significant changes protestors demanded.
People supporting the Imtidad Movement celebrate after preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced in in Nassiriya, Iraq October 11, 2021.
Hopes that independents might jolt the grip of the party machines – or even reduce corruption and tackle power cuts and a decayed infrastructure – appear to have floundered. Anecdotally many young people, who led the protests, didn’t vote.
Iraq’s government, well used since the US-led 2003 invasion to mediating between Iran and US, has in recent months brokered talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These efforts are likely to continue, even if slowed by any transition in Baghdad.
The Shia-dominated groups have both close ties to Tehran and working relationships with Washington, which has around 2,500 troops in the country and is pledged to restrict them to an advisory role by year end. All parties and groups pledge reform.
Alliances linked to Tehran
The State of Law coalition, formed in 2009, includes eight parties. The largest, Dawa party, is led by Nouri al-Maliki, who stepped down as prime minister in 2014.
The rival National Wisdom movement, formed this year, is led by former prime minister Haidar al-Abadi and Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim.
The Aqed al-Watani bridges the Sunni-Shia divide, including the Iraqi Islamic Party, a long-established Sunni group, and Falih al-Fayyadh, leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the state-cum-independent militias links to Iran’s IRGC.
The Fatih alliance, also includes PMF figures, like Hadi al-Amiri, who heads the Badr Organization, a group originally armed by Iran in the 1980sand 90s that has evolved into a political party.
There are two mainly Sunni groupings – the Taqadum alliance and the Azm alliance. In the Kurdish provinces, most support will as usual go to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Of 329 seats, 237 are elected in Iraq’s 18 provinces, with 83 reserved for women and nine for religious minorities. Parliament in turn elects the president and prime minister.
A nationwide poll by the al-Rafidain Center for Dialogue, taken between September 25 and October 5, found a level of support for the Sadr movement that would have given it around 47 seats, fewer than it won in 2018 when in alliance with the Communist Party and smaller groups.
The poll found 42 percent of respondents thought the election was transparent while 42 percent lacked any trust in it. But 70 percent said they did not expect candidates to deliver on any promises, with the highest confidence in Anbar and Erbil provinces, strongholds respectively of Sunni Arab parties and the KDP.