The recent Iraqi parliamentary elections were not like their antecedents — including the first elections after Saddam’s ouster in 2005. This time, the large blocs formed on sectarian (Shiite-Sunni) and nationalist (Arab-Kurdish) lines dissolved. The newly elected House of Representatives will consist of a larger number of coalitions that will have lesser weight. It’s unlikely that the most important Shiite bloc (the National Iraqi Alliance) will emerge again given its recent dissensions.
Splintering of old blocs
The Sadrist movement has already parted ways with it and has joined hands with the Communist Party and other civil groups in these elections. The State of Law Coalition has been divided into two groups, the first led by Prime Minister Haidar Abadi while the second is led by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. There is also the National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim who was the former leader of the Islamic Supreme Council. Other Shiite groups formed lists that included armed groups that had joined the Popular Mobilization Forces and entered elections under the leadership of Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr organization who had parted ways with the State of Law Coalition and the National Alliance.
The Sunni bloc has also broken down, with its members forming small sectarian lists, even as some of its leaders joined the National Coalition led by Ayad Allawi. Even Kurds, who had shown more unity than others in the past, have splintered and the Kurdistan Alliance is no longer their only umbrella. Each party has its own list which has led to poorer representation in parliament. These lists will seek to join Shiite or Sunni blocs to guarantee a role in the next cabinet. It’s most likely that the Kurdistan Democratic Party will hold the lead among them, entitling it to be the preferred partner of the next government.
Given this scene, the new government would have to be strong enough to meet the challenges of the post-ISIS phase, especially in terms of establishing state citizenship after the fall of the state of sects and national quotas.Adnan Hussein
What distinguished this year’s elections is that the rate of boycotts or abstentions, which have been a characteristic of previous elections, has significantly increased. Voter turnout in this election fell from 60% (recorded in the 2014 elections) to less than 50%. This was actually expected and it represented people’s punishment of influential parties, especially Islamists which the public felt they had betrayed them after 15 years of holding sway following the fall of Saddam's regime.
The Shiite frustration
The Shiites, the largest faction of the population, did not feel that the parties that spoke of their oppression contributed to improving their livelihood conditions. Actually the opposite happened. The Shiites are the most affected by the collapse of the public services system (health, education, electricity, water, sanitation and transport) and by the high levels of unemployment and poverty. Most people realize the leadership of the Shiite parties is responsible for this because of their administrative and financial corruption which has been growing over the years, despite government’s vows to fight this phenomenon that drains hundreds of billions of dollars allocated to economic and social development.
The term of the previous government, which was led by the largest bloc in parliament, the National Iraqi Alliance, merely increased Shiite frustration against their parties. Despite the fact that ISIS occupied Sunni areas that year, Shiites were killed by the terror proto-state in large numbers. For example, the terrorist organization ISIS killed 1,700 young Shiite recruits training at Camp Speicher after the army and police forces withdrew from the area surrounding the camp just like they withdrew from other areas that ISIS occupied. In fact, victims of the war fought in later years to restore ISIS-held areas were mostly Shiite members of the army, the federal police and the Popular Mobilization Forces. The families of the victims who sacrificed their lives in the war have been complaining that their "government" did not properly safeguard their interests. This further worsened the frustration and disappointment against the Shiite parties and the government.
The Kurdish grudge
The Sunnis too were greatly frustrated with their parties. These parties focused on fomenting sectarian differences and conflicts, which led to the catastrophic ISIS occupation. The frustration against the Sunni parties worsened after the occupation, which caused the displacement of most of the Sunni population, causing them to live in deplorable conditions in various refugee camps that lacked basic humanitarian facilities. What escalated this hostility towards these parties is how the latter’s leaders took advantage of their agony to appropriate a portion of the money flooding from home and abroad to help the displaced.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, things are not looking any better. The majority of Kurds discovered that their parties were not capable of strengthening the gains they had hoped for. Leaders of Kurdish parties have also been immersed in administrative and financial corruption, and started fighting for power, influence and money among each other. The misjudgment particularly in terms of the timing in arranging the referendum on the right to self-determination last year definitely incensed Kurds against these parties, as Kurds have lost much of the gains they had made over half a century.
Given this scene, the new government would have to be strong enough to meet the challenges of the post-ISIS phase, especially in terms of establishing state citizenship after the fall of the state of sects and national quotas. People conveyed this message in the recent elections through boycotts and abstentions. Reconstruction must also include all of Iraq, not just the areas devastated by the occupation of ISIS and its decimation. This is precisely why the government needs to be committed to combating administrative and financial corruption which was the main reason behind the collapse of non-oil Iraqi economy, the incitement of civil and political conflicts and the rise of ISIS.
Of course, the new government shouldn’t resemble the previous ones in terms of sectarian and nationalistic quotas as this would reproduce failures and deepen public resentment that warn of social unrest that’s difficult to control. Just like the recent elections do not resemble previous ones, the new government, or rather the entire political process, must not resemble its predecessors.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.