Iraq must focus on nation-building after parliamentary elections

Pursue gains achieved by the past government to alleviate people’s sufferings, say analysts

Followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate holding his posters, after the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Oct 11, 2021. (HADI MIZBAN / AP)

Despite the apathy that resulted in low voter turnout in Iraq’s parliamentary elections, the incoming leaders should focus on building on the gains achieved by the past government to alleviate the sufferings of Iraqis, analysts said.

The elections, held on Oct 10 with a turnout of 41 percent and initially scheduled for 2022, were a response to the protests that broke out in October 2019 due to corruption, poor governance, and a lack of public services. More than 25 million people were eligible to vote in the elections.

Supporting decentralization will decrease ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) threats, which has been capitalizing on the Shia-dominated government and its sectarian policies against the Sunnis in the country

Amjed Rasheed, a senior researcher at Open Think Tank

It is the fifth parliamentary elections to be held since the United States illegally invaded Iraq and toppled former leader Saddam Hussein. 

Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the Sadrist Movement, won some 70 seats in Baghdad and other southern provinces, while the State of Law Coalition, headed by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, secured 35 seats in Baghdad and other central and southern provinces, Xinhua news reported. 

The initial results also showed that the al-Fateh Coalition (Conquest), which includes some Shiite militias of Hashd Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella group, garnered about 14 seats. The Imtidad Movement, whose members were part of the massive protests in 2019, won about nine seats, mainly in the southern province of Dhi Qar.

The political alliance known as Taqaddum, or Progress, headed by the outgoing parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, won about 40 seats in Baghdad and other Sunni provinces.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, won most seats in the Kurdish areas with about 32 seats, mainly in Erbil and Duhok.

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Hassan Abdilah, director at Jssor, a non- profit, non-political and non-governmental youth organization in Thi-Qar, said the majority of the Iraqis did not vote because of disappointment over the government’s performance in general. 

“The Islamic and (other) political parties pushed their members and people to go vote. (As a result) the parties’ candidates got very good votes, Abdilah told China Daily.

Abdilah lauded the Independent High Electoral Commission, Iraq’s electoral commission, for doing “a great work”, including the United Nations, NGOs, the government, which “invested much power and deployed tens of thousands of troops” and other election observers, in facilitating the smooth process of the elections. 

“There are many firsts in this election. First of all, this is the first time when early elections are taking place given the protestors’ demand in 2019. Secondly, there is a new reformed electoral law in place, which divides the country (into) many smaller constituencies which has resulted in an increase in the number of constituencies from 18 to 83,” Manjari Singh, an associate fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, told China Daily. 

“This will help in better and fair representations of all the constituencies in the elections and to avoid gerrymandering,” she added.

Jssor’s Abdilah said his organization hopes the next government can create more jobs for the youth, especially for new graduates, and work on the country’s education system. 

“Above all, fighting the corruption because with corruption, (none of) the above demands can be achieved,” Abdilah said.  

Last year, according to the World Bank, Iraq's GDP shrank 10.4 percent. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates there are 1.2 million internally displaced persons and about 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the country.

The UN said insecurity, lack of livelihoods, and destroyed or damaged housing hampered people's ability to return home.

Amjed Rasheed, a senior researcher at Open Think Tank, an Iraqi non-profit group, said whoever leads next should sustain outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s progress in depoliticizing the judiciary and support his anti-corruption policies.

Rasheed said there were vital steps that have not been taken to achieve genuine decentralization, such as having a second chamber besides the Council of Representatives, resolving oil-related issues, the Kurdish forces’ salaries and solving the disputed areas between the Kurdish region and the center, among others. 

“Supporting decentralization will decrease ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) threats, which has been capitalizing on the Shia-dominated government and its sectarian policies against the Sunnis in the country,” Rasheed told China Daily. 

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Singh of CLAWS said Kurdish representation is a good sign in terms of inclusivity but overall, the elections “hardly make any difference in Iraq”. 

She said being able to play a mediation role has been the biggest achievement for the Kadhimi government.

The Iraqi elections, Singh said, are also important from the regional point of view given the recent developments and talks at the Baghdad Conference, which was held in August.

Iraq hosted the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, mostly attended by Arab leaders and co-organizer France, aimed at pacifying tensions in the Middle East.

Singh said whether it brings any change for the people of Iraq or leads to any groundbreaking changes are yet to be seen. 

In the Oct 10 polls, 3,249 candidates competed individually, and within 167 parties and coalitions, to contest 329 parliamentary seats. 

Xinhua contributed to this report.