Iraq stuck in an electoral quagmire
Iraqis did not linger long on analyzing the causes of the fire that ripped through Iraq’s biggest ballot-box warehouse, destroying the ballot papers filled in by a large segment of the electorate in the May elections. This fire did not affect the votes cast by Sunnis or Kurds, but by Shiites, whose choices changed the political climate and represented a significant setback for Iranian influence.
Amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud and violations, as stated by numerous judges, deputies and observers, Parliament had ordered a manual recount of the votes. Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr cautioned against the eruption of a “civil war” in Iraq in the aftermath of the burning of the ballot-box warehouse before the nationwide recount. The fire will not affect the recount, because the votes are all stored electronically.
Suddenly, the Iraqi political scene witnessed an apparent breakthrough. The results of the elections confirmed the victory of an anti-Iranian Shiite figure, but soon enough this victory was undermined by Sadr announcing his alliance with Iranian-backed militia chief Hadi Al-Amiri. There are no clear details about this alliance between these two blocs that ran against each other in the elections, and the sharp division between them almost led to an inter-Shiite conflict in Iraq.
The declaration of an alliance between Sadr and Al-Ameri tempered the tensions and undermined fears of fighting between armed Shiite factions. This alliance was considered a victory for Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who controls Iran’s policy with respect to Iraq, and who reportedly was stationed at Karbala when announcing the new alliance. It seems that Soleimani, who has resided in Iraq since the end of the elections, is trying to redraw Iraq’s political course.
This fire did not affect the votes cast by Sunnis or Kurds, but by Shiites, whose choices changed the political climate and represented a significant setback for Iranian influence.
The new alliance between Al-Ameri and Sadr remains fragile and faces substantial obstacles regarding the allocation of posts, the means of nominating a pick for prime minister and the distribution of ministerial posts, but it extinguished the hopes of seeing the birth of a broad coalition government that goes beyond communities and components.
In addition to Shiite balances and dwelling on Iran’s role in this convergence by Iraqi and Arab sources, the fear of losing seats and risks to election results after Parliament’s decision to dismiss the Elections Commission and appoint judges to supervise the elections, as well as the decision to resort to a manual recount, all played a role in uniting the two Shiite rivals who refuse to recount all the votes manually and want to deal with appeals and doubts by resorting to partial solutions.
Besides the Iranian role, the future government lineup is still incomplete, and until it becomes clearer, the Iraqi media machines keep talking about a great Iranian breakthrough reflecting in bringing together Shiite factions within a broad framework to prevent the Shiite parties from losing the presidency of the Cabinet after the electoral fragmentation witnessed on the Shiite political scene during the elections.
Observers and politicians expect that the new “surprising” Shiite alliance will motivate Sunni parties to try to tighten their ranks and form a union or coalition opposing the larger Shiite bloc. There are also calls by Kurds to unite their ranks before heading to Baghdad, despite the difficulties to achieving this goal.
Until the political situation becomes clearer, the Iraqi political scene remains contingent upon various cross-sectarian, religious and nationalist alliances; everyone understands the need to get rid of them, but they soon reintegrate and consolidate again.
- Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. Twitter: @dianamoukalled