Iraq

The people from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) headed to the polls this week to elect 111 members of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament. This is the fifth general election following the creation of the regional legislature in 1992, and it was the first since last year’s controversial independence referendum. The effects of the failed attempt at independence continue to reverberate among the powerful establishment parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who have shared control of the region since the establishment of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in early 1990s.

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After five months of political uncertainty, Iraq finally has a new prime minister.

On October 3, Iraq’s newly named president, Barham Salih, picked Adel Abdul Mahdi, an independent Shia politician, to be the next prime minister and form a government. The appointment of Mahdi may have provided an opportunity to calm the protests that have roiled the southern Iraqi city of Basra since July.

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Civilian unrest in Iraq has refocused its attention on Haider al-Abadi and the Islamic Dawa party. Ongoing demonstrations this month in the southern city of Basra indicate trouble ahead for the Iraqi federal government and foreshadow an end to Haider al-Abadi’s run as prime minister, as he does not seek a second term.

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Protests raging in southern Iraq foretell the potentially dire consequences if political leaders in the country are unable to form a government in the coming months. Unrest has culminated, after subsequent summers with widespread power outages and frustration in a government widely perceived as corrupt, in at least fourteen demonstrator deaths since early July and protester clashes with Iraqi security forces.

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As most headlines continue to focus on US President Donald Trump’s recent meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and fallout from the NATO summit, Iraq is witnessing some of the largest and most prolonged protests in years. The protests began last week, triggered by water and electricity shortages, unemployment, and government corruption. Despite the growing unrest in a country where the United States has significant interests and forces deployed, there has been little mention of current events in Iraq by American officials or the mainstream media.

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The trajectory of Iraq remains uncertain two months after the May 2018 Parliamentary elections in which the political bloc led by Muqtada al-Sadr won the greatest number of seats. Given that the Alliance Revolutionaries for Reform, or Sairoon, fell well short of a majority, Sadr must develop a coalition with other parties to elect a prime minister and form a government. While possible alliances with Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish parties dominate the news, whether Sadr delivers on his campaign promise of improving service provision may prove most critical to maintaining his substantial popular support.

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The checkered and turbulent past of the man best poised to take on the role of “kingmaker” in Iraq may return to impact his ability to form a government, and Iraq’s relationship with the United States.

The ethnically and politically diverse Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform, led by prominent Iraqi political figure Muqtada al-Sadr, won the greatest number of seats in the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections on an anti-corruption, Iraq-first platform. Whether Sadr has the ability and desire to form a government committed to a better future for all Iraqi people, remains uncertain.

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Amid the uncertainty that has followed the Iraqi parliamentary elections on May 12 one thing is clear: formerly anti-US Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s list is the top vote-getter.

Sadr is trailed by Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri in second place and current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in third according to the unofficial results that are subject to change in the upcoming days.

Sadr, who formed the Mahdi Army in response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, has since disbanded the group and transformed himself into a leading Shia politician.

In an interview with the New Atlanticist, Harith Hasan, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by the elections.

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The Iraqi parliamentary elections on May 12 are likely to be critical in their symbolism but far from definitive in their outcomes. Free and fair elections that lead to the peaceful political transition of members of the Council of Representatives—a process consistent with the 2005 Constitution—could help to solidify Iraqi democratic confidence. Nonetheless, how Iraqis vote is unlikely to clarify the political trajectory of the state.

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Iraqis will vote on May 12 in their first election since the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). With nearly 7,000 candidates vying for 329 seats in parliament, no single political alliance is expected to emerge with an outright majority. As a consequence, the days after the vote will be marked by desperate attempts to cobble together a ruling coalition.

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