The Shia movement led by Moqtada al-Sadr leads ahead of parliamentary elections on 10 October, challenged by pro-Iranian groups. Hitherto hostile to voting, Sunni factions are the dark horse in the race, while Kurds are power brokers. Minorities are weak, Christians included. Iraq’s highest Shia authority, Grand Aytollah Ali Sistani, urges Iraqis to vote.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraqis are set to vote on 10 October to elect members of the fifth federal legislature since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In the complex multiparty system that has developed since then, political parties tend to be defined by ethnic and confessional affiliations, which have failed so far to ensure a stable leadership, prevent violence and fight widespread corruption.
The election was originally scheduled for next year, but protests in fall of 2019 led to the fall of the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahd. He was replaced by Mustafa al Kadhimi who said that he would run for re-election. In view of the situation, the country’s leaders decided to bring forward the vote.
About 25 million Iraqis are eligible to choose 329 members of the Council of Representatives from a field of more than 3,200 candidates running in 83 constituencies with 25 per cent of seats reserved for women.
Among its first tasks, the next parliament must elect Iraq’s new president and pick a prime minister; the latter will be task with choosing a cabinet and getting it approved by parliament.
Shia groups, which are expected to win, have ruled until now, but they are deeply divided and often at odds with each other over leadership.
Like the Chaldean patriarch, Iraq’s highest Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, recently issued an appeal against abstention, urging voters to “participate consciously and responsibly in the next elections” in order to achieve “real change”.
Even if the process has shortcomings and distortions, it remains, he added, "the best way" to move the country towards a "better" future.
Here are the main groups vying for parliamentary seats:
The Sadrist movement
The Sadrist Movement is the political organisation of Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and is widely expected to emerge as parliament's biggest faction.
The Sadr-led Saeroon alliance won 54 seats in 2018, giving Sadr great influence over the government's formation. His movement has used its parliamentary sway to expand its control over large parts of the state.
The Sadrist Movement is running on a nationalist platform, setting itself apart from Iran-backed Shia factions.
Led by militia commanders who have close ties to Iran, these groupings fall under the Fatah Alliance led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Amiri, whose bloc came second in 2018 with 48 seats.
The Fatah Alliance includes the political wing of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, designated a terrorist organisation by the United States.
Its members played a major role in defeating Islamic State group.
Shia alliances and others
Supporters of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Hikma Movement of moderate Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim have joined forces to create the National State Forces Alliance. In 2018, they won 42 and 19 seats respectively.
Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a leader of the Dawa, one of Iraq’s oldest parties, heads the State of Law coalition which won 25 seats in 2018. Maliki is widely blamed for fuelling corruption and taking a hard-line stand against Sunnis that helped the rise of the Islamic State group.
Sunni leader Mohammed al-Halbousi, who is also parliamentary speaker, heads the Taqaddum (progress) alliance which includes several leaders from Iraq’s Sunni-majority north and west.
Halbousi's main competitor is Khamis al-Khanjar, a tycoon who joined the Iran-backed Fatah Alliance after the 2018 election. Khanjar's coalition is called Azm.
Sunni parties usually appeal to tribal and clan loyalties, but their relevance is undermined by internal divisions.
Since Saddam Hussein’s fall, some Sunni elements (including some of the late dictator’s supporters and some Islamic extremists) have tried to discourage voting, calling on Sunnis to boycott elections.
Iraq’s Kurdistan region has enjoyed de-facto autonomy since 1991 and became formally autonomous under Iraq's 2005 constitution. Its parties always run in elections and are an important power broker.
The two main Kurdish parties are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates the Kurdish government in the capital Erbil, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, which dominates areas along the Iranian border and is headquartered in Sulaymaniyah.
The KDP won 25 seats in 2018 against 18 for the PUK.
While the 2019 protests forced the previous government to resign, little has changed since then. Some of the protesters of 2019 have called for a boycott; others have formed their own parties or joined moderate coalitions.
The Imtidad Movement is one of the few activist-led parties fielding candidates, headed by pharmacologist Alaa al-Rikabi, a native of Nasiriyah.
Under the law, nine seats are set aside for minorities, five of them for Christians. The main obstacle is the lack of representativeness. Moreover, in the current electoral system non-Christian parties might "divert" votes and seats that should go to minority candidates.