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Iraq Election 12 May 2018 - Parliament

Iraq’s electoral commission said 19 May 2018 that a bloc led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who fought U.S. troops during the Iraq War, has won the most seats in Iraq’s national parliamentary elections. Al-Sadr’s Sairoon [Marching Toward Reform] alliance with Iraq’s communists won 54 seats. The Fatah [Conquest] Alliance earned second place with 47 seats, while the Nasr [Victory] Alliance, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came in third with 42 seats. Also the State of Law Coalition led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, won 26 seats, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by Masoud al-Barzani won 25 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and a highly influential figure in Iraq, held talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new cabinet that would have Iran's approval.

With over half the votes counted, powerful Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr had emerged as the leading contender in Iraq’s parliamentary elections, a remarkable comeback after being sidelined for years by Iranian-backed rivals. Sadr had reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose fighters battled US troops after the 2003 invasion. Early results showed an amalgam made up of pro-Iranian militia led by paramilitary commander Hadi al Ameri to be in second place, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s list in third. Many analysts had seen the British-educated Abadi, a Shia who as prime minister nurtured ties with Washington and Tehran, as potentially winning a second term as prime minister.

Al-Sadr did not run for a seat in parliament and cannot become prime minister. But as head of a political alliance, he will play a major role in the deal-making and political wrangling that goes into putting together an Iraqi government. Before the election, Iran publicly stated it would not allow al-Sadr's bloc to govern. The election dealt a blow to al-Abadi, but he could still emerge as a compromise candidate palatable to all sides.

Parliamentary elections for the 329-member Council of Representatives was held on May 12. The MPs would then choose Iraq’s prime minister and president. Iraq's political parties traditionally fall almost precisely along ethnic and religious lines. But campaigns this year demonstrated a shift toward cross-sectarian alliances, complicating the process. In total there are 329 parliament seats at stake, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of political alliances. The ballot will decide Iraq’s leader for the next four years, when Baghdad will be faced with rebuilding cities and towns seized from Islamic State, preventing the militants’ return and addressing the sectarian and economic divisions that fueled the conflict.

For many Iraqis, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was the face of victory over IS, and a favorite to once again be prime minister. Despite al-Abadi's military achievements, Iraq continues to struggle with an economic downturn sparked in part by a drop in global oil prices, entrenched corruption and years of political gridlock.

Among Abadi’s challengers are former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri, a former transportation minister – both of whom are among Iran’s closest allies in neighboring Iraq. Other leading contenders include former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri, one of the leaders of the Hashd Shaaby, the primarily-Shiite military force that supported Iraqi forces in the fight with IS. Many Kurdish voters do not support Abadi after a political crisis last year led to Baghdad closing Kurdish airports and seizing land then held by the semi-autonomous region.

The Conquest Alliance of candidates with close ties to the country's powerful, mostly Shia paramilitary forces, called "Fatah" — Arabic for "Conquest" — is headed by Hadi al-Amiri, a former minister of transport who became a senior commander of paramilitary fighters in the fight against Daesh. Many of the candidates on his list were also paramilitary commanders before they cut their official ties with the force in order to seek office. Amiri is not a novice to Iraqi politics. He served as minister of transportation in Maliki’s government and he is the head of the Badr Organisation, a political party but formerly was the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).

The ISCI had a major breakup when its leader, Ammar al-Hakim, decided in 2017 form a new political party — the National Wisdom Movement — in a bid to appeal to younger Shia voters. The development pits former ISCI affiliates against each other in this election.

Shiite political and paramilitary groups called for the withdrawal of the remaining US troops in Iraq. The demand by the opposition Al-Fattah alliance is just the latest sign that the Iranian-backed forces who played a key role in the defining achievement of his premiership — the defeat of Daesh in much of the country — are trying to outmaneuver the Iraqi leader before a nationwide vote that will decide his fate. The Al-Fattah alliance is made up of some of Iraq’s most powerful paramilitary groups including the Badr Organization and Asai’b Ahl Al-Haq, an offshoot of the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army.

The contentious campaign brought an unusual alliance between the ultra-conservative Shiite Sadrist movement and the Communist Party. While the two groups said their goal is to combine forces to fight corruption, some experts see the alliance as a mere struggle for power. Populist preacher Moqtada Sadr defied his clerical rivals and opted to campaign for the 12 May poll alongside former enemies, Marxists who demand a secular state. The alliance, dubbed "Marching towards Reform", is made up of six mostly non-Islamist groups, including the communists, and a Sadr-backed technocratic party called Istiqama ("Integrity"). Civil society activists launched a protest movement in July 2015, demanding reforms, better public services and an end to corruption. They were later joined by followers of Sadr, the populist scion of a dynasty of religious leaders. The protests allowed people from the Islamist movement and secularists to work together.

Influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr commanded fighters in the war against Daesh and headed a powerful militia that fought US forces in Iraq before that, but his election campaign has focused on social issues and eliminating government corruption. Influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has given his backing to the Marchers Alliance, comprised mainly of his supporters and the Iraqi Communist Party, and led by Hassan al-Aqouli, a medical doctor who has not held political office.

Sadr banned members of his al-Ahrar Bloc in parliament, who hold 40 seats, from running in this election, insisting that he will only support new faces. However, most of the future MPs of the Marchers Alliance are expected to follow the directions of Sadr, who himself has been an influential part of Iraq’s political landscape since 2003. Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose fighters battled US troops after the 2003 invasion.

Most Sunni votes were likely to be divided between the Iraqi Decision Alliance, led by Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi, and the National Alliance, led by Vice-President Iyad Allawi. There are also smaller Sunni-led lists competing for votes in local areas. Nujaifi served as minister of industry and speaker of parliament and Allawi has been prime minister. Their candidacies, along with Maliki’s, mean that each of Iraq’s three vice-presidents is heading an election list.

Iraq's government is based on a quota system negotiated after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Positions are designated for sections of the population and the head of state is chosen from the majority, which is Shiite Muslim. Sunni Muslims and Kurdish politicians take other leading positions, with additional places held for women, Christians and other minorities.

According to the constitution, elections will be held late in the spring of 2018, as the last parliamentary elections was held in April 30, 2014. The Iraqi constitution stated that the electoral term of the parliament is to be "four calendar years, starting with its first session and ending with the conclusion of the fourth year."

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHERC) on 02 January 2018 announced their request for the approval of an earlier date to hold parliamentary and provincial elections in the country. The IHERC, at the request of the government, asked the Iraqi Parliament to set 12 May 2017 as the new date for legislative and provincial council elections.

On 11 October 2017 Iraq’s electoral commission set 12 May 2018 for the country’s next parliamentary elections, the date needs to be yet approved by the Iraqi parliament. Kate al-Zubaei, deputy head of the Iraqi commission, announced that this announcement was in accordance with the the law that requires the commission to hold the general election before the end of the current term of the parliament.

On 01 November 2017, the Iraqi cabinet set the date for the upcoming parliamentary election as May 15, 2018. In a statement, the cabinet said that the federal government would be responsible for providing a secure environment to hold the elections and help displaced persons return to their districts for the elections. The Iraqi government said that voting must be electronic, and parties participating in the election must not have armed wings.

On December 5, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, announced that provincial and parliamentary elections will be held on 12 May 2018.

In July 2017 Iraq's most powerful political parties agreed to delay provincial elections and hold them along with national parliamentary elections. The government had not officially announced the postponement of the provincial vote, which it had planned to hold on Sept. 16. But more than a dozen politicians - including members of Parliament and various provincial councils - confirmed that the provincial and national elections will be merged. The Iraqi parliament on 07 August 2017 voted by majority to merge the country's national and provincial elections in 2018, amid heated debates over the system of counting votes and provincial elections in the ethnically-mixed Kirkuk province.

More than four million displaced Iraqis have been sheltered in various places of Iraq which are not in their home constituencies. These citizens would not be able to return to their homes in time for the elections. That could force the government to announce the postponement. The electoral commission ruled that dozens of districts, most in predominately Sunni regions, are too unstable to carry out pre-vote preparations, a situation likely to inflame sectarian divisions if unresolved.

The main issues include the ability of state actors to fairly treat Sunni IDPs, prevent the fracturing and localisation of armed groups and forced demographic displacement, and establishing representative governance for Kurdish, Sunni, Shia and minority communities. A lack of trust in the state, the proliferation of weapons, internal and external forces vying for dominance, and grievances both historical and inchoate, may lead factions to take matters into their own hands.

Iraq’s last parliamentary elections were held in 2014 and saw the ruling Shiite National Alliance form a coalition government with the Kurds and Sunnis. The rise and collapse of IS in Iraq fundamentally changed the dynamics of Sunni politics and inter-sectarian politics in Iraq. There is an emerging political framework taking shape in Iraq - Islamist political parties versus civil/secular parties.

Much of the Sunni population is detached from Sunni leaders in Baghdad, granting Abadi a better chance to win in the coming elections as he is regarded by many Sunnis and Shiites as a compromise between various blocs. The collapse in support for Vice President Usama Al-Nujaifi's al-Mutahidoon coalition at the last election meant there will be a number of Sunni parties vying for support in the 2018 elections.

the popularity of those who were prominent as part of Iraq’s business-as-usual, quota-driven political model has declined. The traditional Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs, split along ethnic and sectarian lines, are not as popular with voters as they once were. There are also plenty of new divisions within them.

Iraq's Sunnis have been hit harder than perhaps any other denomination by the rise and subsequent fall of the Islamic State group. Whole communities have been displaced; families split. Community leaders have fallen away - either through association with IS, or outright joining the group. Others were killed in the fighting, or arbitrarily detained on questionable grounds. The social hierarchy was flattened and broken by the Islamic State. Tribes empowered by the US during the 2006-7 Sahwa campaigns were neglected by their backers, and the Islamic State systematically executed these leaders and empowered a younger generation of tribesmen to diminish the influence of their elders.

Ankara has brought together the leader of the Mutahidoun-bloc Osama Nujaifi, former deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, Turkey proxy former governor of Ninewa Atheel al-Nujaifi and others to create a platform around a federal Iraq with independence for Sunni regions, as outlined in the Ninevah Five-Year Strategy.

Among the Shia, the division between the Maliki and Sadr/Hakim factions emerged in the 2013 provincial council elections in southern Iraq, but Maliki’ssupport waned due to the damaging impact of his sectarian political agenda. Abadi avoided much of the political muck-raking surrounding the election, and may triumph in 2018 because voters and notables want to avoid the insecurity resulting from a more powerful victor.

The large proportion of youth, high rates of unemployment plaguing the age group and a lack of mobility endemic to the tribal-based patronage system favoring seniority are powerful force for young people joining the PMF. In August 2017, Badr Organisation, the Hezbollah Brigades, the Martyrs of Sayyid Brigades, AAH, Jund al-Imam and other pro-Iran groups announced a deal to compete in the election under a unified banner. Several Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia leaders have indicated their desire to run in the elections, despite Abadi asserting that political factions with armed groups would not be “allowed" to participate.

In July 2017, prominent Shi’a politician Ammar al-Hakim withdrew from the powerful Shi’a Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to form a new party, the National Wisdom Movement, that he said would seek Sunni support.

In the years following the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, Iraqi Kurds emerged as an important constituency for Iraqi parties to gain political majority in parliament and in the executive branch. Kurds have for a long time accused former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of making false promises, despite their role in electing him to office for three consecutive terms. Even now, Kurds seem to be crucial to the outcome in upcoming elections despite the weakness they suffer from the ‘referendum debacle’ and other major internal differences.

On 24 December 2017, Maliki confirmed his support for unconditional dialogue with the Kurdistan region during his meeting with US Ambassador to Baghdad Douglas Suleiman. The Kitabat website reported a “high-ranking Kurdish official" saying that “Maliki is trying through his maneuvers to obtain political majority, and get the support of the Kurds," noting that “the large gulf and continuing differences between the Kurds and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi has opened a door that Maliki is trying to exploit."

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Iran on 16 March 2018 of "mucking around" in Iraq's parliamentary elections, in which Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is seeking another term in office. "Iran is following Russia's example of mucking around in Iraq's elections," Mattis told reporters as he returned to Washington on March 15 from a trip to the Middle East and Afghanistan. Mattis was referring to reports that Russia had interfered in elections in the United States, France, Mexico, and elsewhere. "We have worrisome evidence that Iran is trying to influence -- using money -- the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes," Mattis said. "It's not an insignificant amount of money, we believe. And we think it's highly unhelpful."

Government formation negotiations are expected to drag on for months after that as the dozens of political parties attempt to cobble together a political bloc large enough to hold a majority of seats in parliament. Whatever the outcome, there looks set to be lengthy horse-trading between the main political forces before any new premier and a coalition government can be installed. Sadr — who did not stand as a candidate and therefore cannot become premier — appeared in pole position to play kingmaker after years on the sidelines. Among the traditional power-brokers looking set to lose big at the election was divisive former premier Nuri al Maliki, who remains widely reviled for the loss of territory to Daesh.

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