On 30 April 2014, Iraq had its first parliamentary elections after the withdrawal of the American troops from the country. According to the Constitution of 2005, the bicameral parliament is called National Assembly (the Council of Representatives made up of 325 deputies is the lower house, and the Council of Union is the upper house). Since the country has not yet formed the upper house, the elections were held only for the lower house.
The total number of the candidates put forward by 107 parties and registered for elections on the party lists was 9,040, including 2,612 women. There were 20.6 million voters on the electoral roll. Given the continuing terrorist threat in the country, the voting was held with the highest possible security measures in place. The authorities banned vehicular traffic completely trying to prevent car bombings and other similar incidents. On the day of voting, there were only two registered instances of attacks on polling stations, which resulted in ten people killed, with at least two of them being staff members of the local electoral commissions. The chairman of the Central Electoral Commission of Iraq has stated that the final results of the parliamentary elections will be announced around 25–30 May because it is necessary first to recount the votes and consider the numerous complaints. It should be noted that, after the previous parliamentary elections, it took over 9 months to get their results approved and to set up new supreme bodies of legislative and executive power in the country.
According to the sociological surveys conducted before the elections, most of the Iraqi voters had not entertained any hopes and illusions as far as their social situation was concerned as well as the overall situation in the country. Just like in 2010, the vast majority of the Iraqis who came to the polls intended to cast their votes not for some vague national ideas and values, but for the lists of “their own” candidates selected on the ethno-sectarian basis: Shi’ite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. In the local press, the upcoming elections had been described as “elections without a hope” for a better future. There are a few reasons for that.
Firstly, there are still no signs that the country has come out of the deep political and socio-economic crisis. Despite the fact that oil production has reached the pre-war (maximum) level, the majority of the Iraqis do not feel any improvement in their financial conditions. Significant financial resources are being absorbed by the unjustified arms race and corruption. Many parts of the country are still experiencing disruptions of the water and electricity supply, the infrastructure has not been restored, the roads are broken, homes are destroyed, there are not enough schools, hospitals etc. Tensions between the main ethno-sectarian groups of the population are not reducing, with terrorist attacks being carried out almost on a daily basis. The Nouri al-Maliki government has failed to address one of the major domestic issues: to integrate into social life and power the Sunni Arab minority, which has traditionally been the most active and enthusiastic part of the Iraqi elite and society. The fear that the influence of Ba’athism might recover in the country prevailed in Baghdad over common sense and the calling of our time. The new authorities have demonstrated an obvious bias in the process of de-Ba’athisation and “witch-hunting”. Among the individuals targeted by the authorities were not only the close associates of Saddam Hussein, heads of the intelligence services, representatives of the army and Ba’athist elite, but also hundreds of thousands of ordinary employees of the state apparatus and power structures, as well as members of their families. Moreover, Nouri al-Maliki accused one of the most authoritative Sunni leaders, Vice President of Iraq Tariq al-Hashimi, of commanding the “death squads” and initiated his prosecution; Iraqi Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani was charged with links with terrorism. At the end of 2013, Iraqi police organised a special operation to arrest him. The Sunnis responded with mass actions of civil disobedience and armed attacks. The anti-government protest camp near the city of Ramadi was crushed by Iraqi security forces under the pretext that there allegedly were leaders of terrorist organisations. During the camp clashes, about 10 people were killed and another 30 were injured. Government forces called them “militants”, but the fact that force had been used against the demonstrators generated an extremely negative response from the Sunni political establishment. Some members of the Cabinet of Ministers from among the Sunni Arabs resigned, 44 Sunni MPs laid down their mandates; besides, in Anbar province there was serious unrest, which soon grew into a full-scale uprising and the seizure of the largest cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Secondly, the situation on the borders of Iraq has been developing unfavourably as well. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf continue to fund and supply weapons to Islamist radical groups in the so-called “Sunni Triangle” in the central and western regions of the country. In Anbar province alone, there are several organisations of the Sunni militants (the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance, Ansar al-Sunnah, the Mujahideen Shura Council). In fact, it is these groups that lead a terrorist war against the Nouri al-Maliki government and the Shi’ite Arabs. According to the UN data, 7800 civilians and over 1,000 law enforcement personnel were killed in the country in 2013 alone. As was noted above, the Iraqi government does not have control over the most part of Anbar province, including its major cities. Deterioration of the situation in the region has put it on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. By the end of January 2014, more than 140 thousand refugees had left the province, which is nearly 10% of its population.
The ongoing fierce war in Syria also affects the Iraqi territory. It is no coincidence that one of the most powerful and odious radical Islamist groups fighting in Syria is called the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ and extends its activity to Iraq. There is no proper contact and understanding between Baghdad and Ankara: the Turkish authorities prefer, in some cases, to interact more closely with Iraqi Kurdistan and solve the issues of cross-border trade, the production and transportation of hydrocarbons directly with Erbil.
The first unofficial results of the early voting by overseas voters, as well as by the military and law enforcement personnel confirm that we cannot really expect any major changes in the political life of the country. At the moment, the political bloc State of Law led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is leading, and his chances of winning are pretty high. It looks like this politician, as a compromise figure amongst the Shi’ite Arab majority in the country and amongst external players, first of all in Washington and Tehran, is going to retain his positions. This year, the State of Law bloc (coalition of parties) will need to have 165 mandates to secure a majority in parliament. The coalition is unlikely to achieve this result because it has strong opponents, including the Iraqi National Movement “Al-Iraqiya” led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. In the previous elections, Al-Iraqiya had, in the Council of Representatives, two mandates more than State of Law (91 against 89); however Ayad Allawi failed to create a coalition of blocs that would have the necessary number of deputies to form a cabinet of ministers. Back then, after a long period of the “crisis of power” in Iraq, the main political blocs reached a compromise with the help of President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani and entrusted Nouri al-Maliki with forming a government.
Since it is already becoming clear that none of the electoral lists (blocs) represented on the Iraqi political stage will be able to qualify on its own for the sole unconditional victory in these parliamentary elections again, Nouri al-Maliki has suggested that, after the election results are finalised, a “government of parliamentary majority” should be formed, which will supposedly reflect the mood of the majority of Iraq’s population. Maliki also hopes that he will be able to continue as prime minister for a third term.
It is very unlikely that the current President of Iraq, Chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Jalal Talabani, will be able to keep his post due to his old age and poor health (he’s suffered a stroke). It should be borne in mind that the posts of President of the Republic of Iraq and Speaker of the Parliament (Chairman of the lower house) are inferior in terms of importance and influence to the post of Prime Minister and will, most likely, be distributed according to the same scheme as before (President – from the Kurds, and the head of the Parliament – from the Sunni Arabs).
Stanislav Ivanov, senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Historical Sciences; exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.