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Pro-Iran PMF Punished in Iraq Vote

Pro-Iran PMF Punished in Iraq Vote

Monday, 18 October, 2021 - 05:30
According to results, the biggest winner of Sunday's election was the movement of Shiite cleric and political maverick Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been increasingly critical of Iran's influence over Iraqi politics. Ahmad al-Rubaye, AFP

Iraq's election was a disaster for the pro-Iranian former paramilitary force Popular Mobilization Forces PMF al-Shaabi, with voters desperate for an economic recovery rather than shows of military muscle.


According to preliminary results the Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, the political arm of the multi-party PMF, emerged with only around 15 MPs from the October 10 vote.


In the last parliament it had 48, which made it the second largest bloc, reported AFP.


The big winner, with more than 70 seats according to the initial count, was the movement of Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite Muslim preacher who campaigned as a nationalist and critic of Iran.


PMF leaders have rejected the results as a "scam" and said they will appeal, ahead of a final tally expected in the next few weeks.


Analysts say the results show that the mainly Shiite PMF alliance has failed to live up to the political expectations of Iraqis after entering parliament for the first time in 2018, following their major role in defeating the ISIS jihadist group.


Opposition activists accuse PMF's armed groups -- whose 160,000 fighters are now integrated into Iraq's state security forces -- of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.


The Fatah MPs are also seen as having a lack of vision for economic development in an oil-rich country plagued by failing public services and endemic corruption -- the very complaints behind a youth-led anti-government protest movement that began two years ago and led to this month's elections.


- Maliki surprise -


Unlike in the 2018 polls, Salwa, 22, said she did not vote for the alliance this time. "All they came up with were hollow slogans," said the student, who did not give her last name.


"My father insisted my mother and I vote for the Conquest," but Salwa opted for former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who held the post between 2006 and 2014.


In the election's biggest surprise, Maliki, an ally of PMF and a figure close to Iran, won more than 30 seats in the 329-seat parliament.


For political scientist Ihsan al-Shamari, the PMF's weaponry was "a main cause" of its poor showing.


Its close ties with Iran and several instances of "appearing to be above the state" have also damaged its popularity, according to Shamari.


Since the October 2019 revolt, dozens of activists have been kidnapped or assassinated, and their movement blames the pro-Iranian camp.


- 'Country in free-fall' -

Jalal Mohamed, a 45-year-old grocer, said he also did not vote for the PMF.


"The country is in free-fall, while their leaders live in the (high security) Green Zone" insulated from everyday life, he said.


According to a source from within the pro-Iran camp, PMF leaders have quarreled and blamed each other for the debacle over having run rival candidates, thus fragmenting the vote.


"The different parties (in PMF) tried to impose their own candidate in the same constituency and the votes were lost," said the source, on condition of anonymity.


Analysts say Sadr will have to come to terms with the PMF alliance in the negotiating process to form a government and name the new prime minister. The PMF is still expected to carry weight in parliament through the support of members who say they are independent, and arrangements with Maliki.


Harith Hasan, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, puts Maliki's success down to running "strong candidates who resonated with the Shiite electorate, associating (him) with a strong Shiite state, rather than a state dominated by militias".


Maliki "attracted votes from social categories that benefited from his government's employment and patronage largesse when oil prices were at their highest," Hasan wrote in an analysis published by the Center.


On Saturday, a coalition of Shiite parties to which the PMF belongs took a harder line, blaming the electoral commission for "the failure of the electoral process" and warning against "the negative repercussions on the democratic path".


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