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ANALYSIS: How will Iraq write its next chapter after new leadership elected?

Michael Flanagan

Published: Updated:

As everyone knows by now, last May’s elections in Iraq put Muqtada Al Sadr and the Al Fatah Alliance in the front as the number one and two vote getters in the elections. Although running on opposing platforms of Pro- and Anti-Iranian influence, Al Sadr embraced the Iranians shortly after the elections and is working to form a government with them. This process is still ongoing. There is some disagreement as to whether Muqtada is actually pro-Iranian or just appearing so to gain power.

The May elections were boycotted by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi electorate. Some estimates put the voting level below 25% while the official total is about 40%. No one in Iraq has any confidence in the Independent High Electoral Commission (the IHEC – Iraq’s national electoral commission). In fact, the confidence in the fairness of the IHEC is so low that it was temporarily disbanded shortly after the election to allow a panel of judges to perform the actual re-count of the election.

The reason that the election was boycotted by Iraqis was that if the percentage of participation by voters could be driven below 25%, the election would be null and a new election would have to take place. Ordinary Iraqis, utterly fed-up with the corruption emblematic in the persons of the then-front runners ruining their country, voted with their feet and stayed home.

Muqtada Al Sadr was promoting Iraqi-Arab nationalism at this time and also encouraged Iraqis to stay at home as a boycott vote for an end to the corruption. At the same time, he and the Al Fatah Alliance told their followers to vote and, consequently, became the majority vote getters in a very low turnout election.

Since the May elections and the “surprise” joining of Al Sadr and Al Fatah, Iraqis have worked to form a government. This last week the first of the necessary steps took place and the Parliamentary offices were announced. Mohammed Halbousi (a Sunni from Anbar) was selected as the Parliamentary Speaker with an Al Sadr confederate and a Kurd as the first and second deputies respectively. This was expected as the Sunnis are traditionally allowed the Chairmanship of the Parliament, the Kurds are allowed to have the Presidency and the Shiites are allowed the Prime Minister’s office.

Newly-elected parliament speaker Mohamed Al-Halbusi addressing the chamber in the capital Baghdad. (AFP)
Newly-elected parliament speaker Mohamed Al-Halbusi addressing the chamber in the capital Baghdad. (AFP)

A new leadership

Halbousi’s chairmanship set the stage for the selection of moderate Kurdish candidate Barham Salih as president following a parliamentary vote pitting Kurdish heavyweights against each other for the first time.

Newly-elected President Salih also named veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi as prime minister-designate and tasked him with forming a new government. According to Iraq's constitution, Abdul Mahdi now has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.

Barham Salih Iraq. (AFP)
Barham Salih Iraq. (AFP)

Abdul Mahdi was backed by the faction of Shiite politicians led by Sadr.

The new political scene in Iraq must become increasingly cautious of Iran. Struggling under sanctions from the United States and elsewhere, Iran is starving for hard currency and economic stability. The Iranian Rial (IRR) has lost most of its value recently and the Iranian domestic situation is explosive. Imagine if Iran could use Iraq as a cutout to engage in international commerce and circumvent sanctions and consequences of its acts. Such a possibility must be forestalled.

In the interregnum to come, the West should help Iraq to make changes in its constitution and body of laws to reform the party and election structures. This would be a predicate for offering United Nations’ supervised elections.

If a neutral, international body were to oversee the currently corrupt election process in Iraq, the confidence of the people would return and the Iraqis would again widely participate. Further with some changes in the law, better candidates would be thrust to the fore and given a chance to directly combat Iraq’s corruption problems which are at the root of all of Iraq’s troubles.