Iraq Elections: Shia Nationalism, Iran Factor, Low Turnout & Scam Allegations

The results depict that the Iraqi people are becoming increasingly intolerant of Iranian inference in their society.

4 min read
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Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

The results of Iraq's general election that was held on Sunday, 10 October, show the emergence of nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as the leading political candidate in the country.

A Sunni faction that is led by the current Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi finished second in a race, in which Iran-backed parties and militias, that have been present in Iraqi politics since Saddam Hussein's death, performed quite poorly, according to reports by The Washington Post and Associated Press.

Iraq's general election was supposed to be held next year, in 2022.

However, the election was held ahead of schedule in order to satisfy the demands of protestors who took to the streets in 2019, demanding a reformation of the Iraqi system that was plagued by corruption, unemployment, and external influence (Iran).

Iraq's current prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, had assumed power in 2020 after the resignation of Adil Abdul-Mahdi, prime minister of Iraq since October 2018.

Mahdi had come under fire for his handling of the 2019 protests in which his government had violently cracked down on protesters using live bullets, hot water, pepper gas among other means of violence, leading to many deaths and injuries, Human Rights Watch had reported.

In the face of widespread public discontent with daily life and society, along with increased hostility against Iranian interference in Iraqi government and politics, Muqtada al-Sadr successfully ran a campaign (the Sadrist Movement) promoting Shia nationalism, anti-corruption, and a government free of American and Iranian influence.


The Sadrist Movement

The Sadrist Movement is an Islamic movement that enjoys popular support across Iraq's Shia population.

In the 2018 elections, the movement had finished as the single largest party, winning 54 out of 329 seats and also the highest vote share.

The leader of the movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, is revered for fighting against the US armed forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Then in 2014, he led the Sarayat al Salam, a militia group that fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, reported the Associated Press.

His nationalist credentials and dedication to the Iraq's sovereignty has made him a legend for millions of Iraqis.

In a speech on Monday, 11 October, al-Sadr said that "it’s time for the people to live without occupation, wars, militias, terrorism, kidnappers and fear-mongering,” The Washington Post reported.

What also distinguishes Muqtada al-Sadr's movement from other Shia parties that contested the election is that it has consistently been opposed to Iranian influence in Iraqi governance.

Despite Iran being a Shia nation, al-Sadr has spoken out against Iran's policy of supporting Iraq's Shia militias with weapons and money.


Iran-Backed Parties Falter  

Shia militias funded and supported by Iran gained popularity and clout in Iraqi politics after it played a contributory role in the defeat of ISIS between 2014 and 2017.

But eventually, these militias started being viewed as a threat to the Iraqi state's sovereignty, with one Iraqi official even telling Reuters that the militias "are linked directly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps" and that they "take their orders from them, not from any Iraqi side."

Many Iran-backed parties contested in the elections, but failed to win the numbers required to lead the government.

The Fateh Alliance, a coalition of mostly Shia Muslim groups, that had won 48 seats in the 2018 elections, is projected to win only 12-14 seats in the 2021 election.

This coalition was led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who served between 2014 and 2018.

Similarly, the Huqooq Party, which is the political wing of Kata'ib Hezbollah, a Shia paramilitary group sponsored by Iran, is also estimated to win very few seats.

Political analyst Ihsan Alshamary, while commenting on the election, said that the "results were a strong message to Iran that its political arms are rejected by the Shiite street", added the AP report.


Low Turnout and Fraud Allegations

The official turnout of Sunday's vote was only 41 percent.

However, the actual number of people who voted in the elections would be lower than 41 percent because the Iraqi government provided this statistic based on its tally of registered voters, and not eligible voters, The Washington Post reported.

The low turnout is reflective of the widespread disillusionment in Iraqi society about their politicians and of the way by which Iraqi people are governed.

A graphic designer from Baghdad told The Washington Post that all the parties involved in the elections "have armed wings" and that "they’ve been killing us [them], whether through negligence or with their guns.”

A professor of a university in Baghdad said that "nothing will happen on the ground” because of the "same leaders, same list, same schedule, and the same plan and goal", Al Jazeera reported.

Controversy has already flared up about the election results that depict Muqtada al-Sadr as the clear winner.

The pro-Iran political parties denounced the election as a fraudulent one.

A joint statement by several Shia parties, all backed by Iran, said that they "will appeal against the results and we reject them", Agence France-Presse reported.

Even the former prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said he will take "all available measures to prevent the manipulation of votes."

Muqtada al-Sadr's Sadrist Movement is unlikely to lead the government without any coalition support from the Iran-backed parties, despite his anti-Iran rhetoric.

The Gulf Arab countries that are majority Sunni, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are supported by the US (al-Sadr is also staunchly anti-US), will want incumbent Mustafa al-Kadhimi to continue as prime minister, AP reported.

Nevertheless, regardless of who becomes prime minister, Iraq's 2021 elections will play a role in shaping Iraq's policies towards Iran, the US, and the Gulf countries, even if its policies towards its own people remain unchanged, as is feared by the Iraqi people.

(With inputs from The Washington Post, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, and Al Jazeera.)

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Topics:  Iraq   Shia   Iran 

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