Few people look at elections in the Arab world as a means of democratic change.
This is mainly because, despite the casting of ballots, the whole electoral process is tarred with little transparency. Many of those running for office are themselves monitoring the process, and most often refuse to acknowledge the results, if it doesn’t suit them.
Last week’s Iraqi elections were no different.
While many hoped that the election would bring out the young that formed a united front in October 2019 with the ambition to force change, it didn’t happen. The eventual boycott of civil society left the floor for the traditional anti-Iran and pro-Iran factions to face off, ultimately leading to the former’s landslide victory.
Naturally the losing side - the Popular Mobilization Forces, and a hodgepodge of paramilitary Shia militias funded by Iran - claimed that their resounding defeat was nothing but a scam perpetrated by the pro-US political establishment led by the incumbent Prime Minister, Mustapha al-Kadhimi.
Perhaps the irony of the pro-Iranian allegation is that al-Kadhimi did not run for office and his decision earlier in the year to refrain from forming a political party to run in the elections baffled the public at large.
Instead, the faction that handed defeat to Iran was one of their co-religionists, the infamous Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sader whose party won 73 seats in the 329-member parliament. His party has been accused time and again of rampant corruption.
If one is to properly assess the Iraqi elections it becomes clear that despite what those that run for office - or their supporters - might claim, the vote is never based on good governance and fighting corruption. It is instead a vote for sovereignty, in the face of an ever-growing Iranian expansionist project that refuses to acknowledge Iraqi sovereignty, or that country’s Shia community that refuse to conform to Iran’s masterplan.
Al-Sader’s political growth since the US-led invasion of Iraq is sufficient proof of how this inexperienced cleric, who formed his own Shia militia (Mahdi Army) in 2003, was able to rebrand himself and his movement. He declared recently that: “From now on, weapons must be confined to the hands of the state and it is forbidden to use them outside this scope, especially from those who claim to be resistance or the likes… It is time for the Iraqi people to live in peace without occupation, terrorism, or militias that kidnap, intimidate, and diminish the prestige of the state.”
In the debacle that is Iraq, al-Sader’s statement is less important than the actions of his Iranian-sponsored rivals that threatened using force to overturn the election results based on what they saw as a conspiracy to defeat their so-called axis of resistance.
In reality this axis spreading across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen has achieved nothing but the systemic spread of chaos and lawlessness.
In Iraq however, Iran has been confronted not only by al-Sader, but also by the remnants of the Iraqi state led by al-Kadhimi who has not shied away from reminding everyone, including some of his allies, that defending sovereignty reigns supreme.
Al-Kadhimi has no parliamentary bloc, but through this simple commitment he was able to keep Iraq as the international center of attention, earning respect and securing funding from around the globe.
Iran’s defeat in Iraq comes at a time when the Biden administration, and much of Europe are in a hurry to reinstate the Iranian nuclear deal, regardless if this comes at the expense of regional stability.
The reaction of Iran to its resounding defeat in Iraq is a preamble to its reaction once the nuclear deal is back on track. The chances of militias democratizing and giving up weapons are slim. Sovereignty is the priority for any elections run in the region.
This naturally does not cancel out the other important search for good governance and rule of law, but reform and illegitimate weapons, especially those fielded by Iran simply do not mix.
Consequently, the Kadhimi-Sader dynamic has once again reaffirmed or perhaps exposed the fallacy of framing elections as the ultimate gauge of democracy in a region battling Iranian hegemony.