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Who's Competing in Iraq's Elections?

Who's Competing in Iraq's Elections?

Tuesday, 28 September, 2021 - 10:15
Officials of Iraq's electoral commission undergo a polling day simulation to test run its systems ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections on September 22, 2021. (Getty Images)

Iraq holds a general election on Oct. 10, its fifth parliamentary vote since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and ushered in a complex multi-party system contested by groups defined largely by sect or ethnicity.


The vote had been set for next year but was brought forward to satisfy protesters who took to the streets in 2019 over rampant corruption, poor services and the widely held view that the elite had abused power to enrich itself.


Groups drawn from the Shiite majority are expected to remain in the driving seat, as has been the case since Saddam's regime was removed from power.


But the Shiites are sharply divided, including over the influence of Iran next door.


The activists who sought the removal of the entire political class have been divided over whether to contest the vote, and are expected to win a few seats at most. A new election law also guarantees women at least 83 seats in parliament.


Reuters takes a look at the main groups competing for parliament's 329 seats:


The Sadrist Movement

The political organization of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the Sadrist Movement, is widely expected to emerge as parliament's biggest faction.


The Sadr-led Sairoon alliance won 54 seats in 2018, more than any other faction, giving Sadr decisive influence in 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, seeking to set itself apart from Iran-backed Shiite factions.


Sadr led Shiite militants against US forces after the invasion and inherited a cult-like following among supporters who revered his father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.


Iran-aligned groups

Led by militia commanders who have close ties to Iran, the biggest grouping of Iran-aligned parties fall under the Fatah Alliance led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, whose bloc came second in 2018 with 48 seats.


The Fatah Alliance includes the political wing of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization and also represents the Badr Organization, which has long ties with Tehran and fought alongside Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.


The paramilitaries all played a major role in defeating ISIS when it took over a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017.


Some Iran-aligned parties are running outside of the Fatah umbrella, including the newly formed Huqouq party of Iran's most powerful Iraqi proxy, Kataib Hezbollah.


Other Shiite alliances

Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi and the Hikma Movement of moderate cleric Ammar al-Hakim have joined forces to create the National State Forces Alliance.


An alliance led by Abadi came third in 2018, winning 42 seats, after he presided over ISIS’ defeat.


Hikma won 19.


Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a senior leader in one of Iraq's oldest political parties, Dawa, heads the State of Law coalition which won 25 seats in 2018. Maliki is widely blamed for fueling corruption and anti-Sunni sectarianism that helped ISIS gain followers.


Sunni parties

The Sunni parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi is leading the Taqaddum, or progress, alliance which comprises several Sunni leaders from the Sunni-majority north and west of Iraq and is expected to get many Sunni votes.


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.


Kurds

Iraq's northern Kurdistan region has had de-facto autonomy since 1991 and became formally autonomous under Iraq's 2005 constitution. Its parties always participate 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 Sulaimaniya.


The KDP won 25 seats in 2018 and the PUK won 18. They will retain the lion's share of Kurdish votes, followed by smaller parties. The total tally from seven Kurdish parties in 2018 was 58.


Activists

While the 2019 protests led the previous government to quit, little else has changed since then. The struggle they faced was highlighted by the use of deadly force against demonstrators.


Some of the activists who protested in 2019 are urging a boycott. But others have formed their own parties or joined moderate coalitions such as that of Abadi and Hakim.


The Imtidad Movement is one of the few activist-led parties fielding candidates, headed by pharmacologist Alaa al-Rikabi, a native of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq where some of the deadliest attacks against demonstrators took place in 2019.


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