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Iraq elections aren’t known for bringing stability, this year no different

By Ziryan Rojhilatî 12/2/2018
Iraq will hold parliamentary elections on May 12. File photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Iraq will hold parliamentary elections on May 12. File photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Contrary to what is being said, it is unlikely that elections will lead to political stability in Iraq. Since 2003, no elections have led to political stability. 

The formation of government after elections has always caused knotty problems, political rivalries, and security problems. For 2018, there is no promising indication that we can expect better a situation. There is high possibility that this year will be full of rivalries and complications, just like other post-Saddam years. 

Two things explain why the 2018 elections will not bring about stability in Iraq: first, previous elections; second, current situations. 

A government was not formed in Iraq until more than four months after elections were held in 2005. This is while there were nearly 180,000 American soldiers in Iraq. The Sunnis boycotted the elections, the Kurds were united, but Iraqi Shiites were not as united. The Sadr Movement and Fazila Party pulled out of the Shiite coalition. 

The main reason behind political instability in 2005 was armed conflict and the spread of al-Qaeda, which led to 50 to 60 people dying on a daily basis. 

The 2010 Iraqi elections didn’t lead to anything better. The Iraqi parties formed a government nearly nine months after the elections were held. And that happened only under pressure from Iran and the US. 

The Sunni’s political and security problems continued. The distancing of Sunnis from the government went on for some time. In addition, the Iraqi and Mahdi armies confronted each other. 

The US withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011. The question of disputed areas escalated between Erbil and Baghdad. Finally, the emergence of ISIS led to the failure of the Iraqi government. 

Nearly five months after the 2014 elections, a government was formed after Nouri al-Maliki was persuaded to relinquish his claim on the post of prime minster.

This led to problems piling up: the war on ISIS, the displacement of Sunnis, change in Iraqi demography, Kurdistan’s referendum, and the return of the Iraqi army to disputed areas. These were the main reasons behind political instability in Iraq following the 2014 elections. 

Contrary to Haider al-Abadi’s announcement that armed groups would be barred from running for office, the Hashd al-Shaabi is taking part in elections using pseudo names. But this will lead to two things. First, election campaigns will tend to focus more on military victories against ISIS and confronting the Kurdistan Region’s independence bid. This will further deepen sectarian politics. 

Second, new militia politicians will alter the internal politics of Iraqi Shiites.

Contrary to the hopes of the US and Saudi Arabia, the main Shiite parties are still under the influence of Iran. 

The Iraqi Sunnis are more inclined to unite, but their main problem is that their voters are absent. Seven Iraqi Sunni cities have been destroyed. More than hundreds of thousands of Sunnis have either emigrated or are internally displaced. That is why they have a shortage of voters.

The so-called victory over ISIS does not mean the end of this organization. ISIS is still quiet, but has the ability to create conditions similar to those of 2006 and 2007. 

Problems between Erbil and Baghdad remain outstanding. The situation is imbalanced and this cannot continue the way it is. A change will happen after the elections. 

Like previous elections, the formation of a government will face problems and there is probability that political instability will strike Iraq again. 

Unlike previous times, the Kurds will enter elections more divided. And this could be like a two-headed sword. If these divisions continue until elections are held, Kurdish dissenters might vote Kurdish parties rather than non-Kurdish ones. However, if these divisions persist until after elections and into negotiations on the formation of the government, this will have a negative impact on the position of Kurds in Iraq. 

The Kurdistan Region’s elections can turn a new page for problems between political parties. This can create better conditions for them to reach an agreement. 

Political parties have the right to engage in election campaigns to win over the hearts and minds of voters by turning to populist rhetoric. But they should think of post-election situations too. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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