Iraq is still in shock after the national elections last Saturday, yielded surprising and unexpected results. Both the Sadr movement, and Hadi Alamiri’s lists made huge gains on the expense of Prime Minster Abadi’s list, who came in third in the overall votes. Abadi was expecting to win swiftly, he campaigned on his victory on ISIL, uniting Iraq, and promises to step up efforts against corruption, but the Iraqi people have chosen a different path.
It appears that Iraq might be heading to a hung parliament, meaning no party holds absolute majority in the parliament to form a government. On The Move (Sa’roun- سائرون) won the most number of seats (56) which is a far cry from the 165 seats needed for majority. The runner-up won 54 seats, while Prime Minster Abadi’s list won 46 seats. A coalition government is needed in this case to form a government.
A coalition government in Iraq is easier said than done, after each of the past few elections, Iraq had needed to form a collation to move to the next step, but as recent as the past elections, the process took months, even when the winning list had a substantial number of seats (State of Law Coalition won the election with 92 seats!). Which only means that this time it could be even more challenging, especially given how fractured and conflicting the current political scape.
Will Iraq Shift More Toward the US or Iran?
This is the question that is concerning many Iraqis. Ever since 2003, Iraq has enjoyed a strong support from the US, after all, the current Iraqi political system is the foster child of American foreign policy. But after the US withdrawal from Iraq, the central government has been shifting toward Tehran, tightening the relationships, and even allowing direct Iranian influence in the Iraqi political process. Nouri Almaliki was infamously pro-Iran, and has been accused of implementing sectarian polices with Iran’s blessings. Many critics blame his sectarianism for the rising Sunni insurgency, and the eventual fall of Mosul, plus a third of Iraq in the hands of ISIL. When he was pushed away and Abadi came in his place, Abadi shifted back towards the US while maintaining a good relationship with Iran, after all he needed both to help him fight ISIL and liberate the occupied areas. In order to simplify where political parties stand on their allegiance, the info-graph below shows each alliance and how they tend to orient when it comes to becoming closer to Washington, or Tehran. Notably, the winning alliance, is the one with the most prominent goal of ending Iraq’s dependence on both US, and Iran, and focus on what Sadr appears to steal from Trump’s election book, “Iraq First”.
Blue: More US-Oriented, Green: More Iran-Oriented, the darker the shade the more supportive of the respective powers. On The Move is in Red because it has strong anti-US and anti-Iran sentiments.
The Kurds are America’s strongest allies in Iraq, all Kurdish political groups tend to be oriented to the US more than anything, so its safe to put all Kurdish groups in dark blue as they are very much US-oriented than other parties.
This election, the Sunnis’ preferred lists were mostly local, however, just like the past two elections, Ayad Alwai’s list has performed very well in Sunni areas, gaining 10 seats from 2014. Sunnis aren’t necessarily Pro-US, after all, America’s most challenging task in Iraq was containing the Sunni insurgency, but The Sunnis would rather cooperate with the US than have any sort of Iranian influence on their country. Alwai is a secular, westernized politician with no nationalist, religious, or extremist orientations, and so is most of his base. If he was a part of a coalition government, he’d more likely be in a pro-US coalition than a pro-Iran one. The same with smaller Sunni lists, though ideally they would not be supportive of a cooperation with the US, but they would much rather do that then have a pro-Iran government running the country.
The Victory Alliance, led by PM AlAbadi is most definitely not anti-Iran, but it is pro-US, in fact, it is Washington’s preferred political group among all others. Americans have been impressed with the results of Abadi’s first tenure, they have worked with him and they credit his efforts on the progress than have been made against ISIL. However, Abadi’s list is cross-sectarian, its best performance was in Nineveh, the Sunni province and where ISIL captured its largest city, Mosul for two years. But giving its poorer-than-expected performance nationwide, it is not unlikely that Victory Alliance would participate in a pro-Iran coalition if they see their best interest is with other Shia-led groups
Few Potential Coalitions:
1- A cross-Sectarian, secular government
Composed of Sadrists, Victory Alliance, and Sunnis, plus few seats from smaller parties. Among Sunnis, Abadi is the most popular Shia politician, among Sadrists who want to fight corruption, Abadi has already expressed his willingness to do so. Whether he can preserve his premiership or not, that is impossible to know, but the Sadrists don’t have a clear leader or candidate that they would rally behind to make him prime minster. There is a slight likelihood that the Sadrists in such a coalition would pressure Abadi to distance himself, and his government from the US, such pressure would also be encouraged from some of the Sunnis in this coalition, which would lead to a semi-nationalist Iraqi government that opposes both Iran and US policies.
2- If Sectarianism Prevails, once again
All the religious and secular Shia groups
A lot of experts were optimist regarding this election, some even called it “Iraq first post-sectarian elections”. However, with a hung parliament, parties could resort to sectarian lines once again, ignoring their differences for a greater cause and few perks that they agree upon themselves. Most of the top winning lists are Shia-led, so the possibility of a Shia-supermajority government is not far fetched. This means of course that either Sadrists have to compromise their anti-Iran stance, or other groups water-down their relationship and closeness to Iran. Also, Almaliki and Abadi might need to forgo their differences. This would be a problematic coalition and could drag Iraq into yet another civil war.
3- An American-Friendly Government
Kurds, Arab Sunnis, and Arab Shia
A cross-Sectarian, cross-Ethnic, secular government with little ties to Iran and very much pro-US. A coalition that includes Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shias, plus the 9 minority seats. Such a coalition is very unlikely to happen simply because, first, the largest two lists (Sadrists and Conquest) aren’t included, and second, Kurds and Arabs do not get along, especially since Abadi was responsible for dissolving Kurds’ secessionist efforts.
4- Most Iranian-Friendly Government
If Sadr doesn’t get his way, and Abadi concedes and join forces with other Shia groups, this coalition can be a possibility. Potential PM picks are Abadi, AlAmiri or AlMaliki. The Sadrists would join forces with the Sunnis and Kurds to form a very strong opposition, which could risk sparking a political crisis. To many experts, this could actually be the most problematic outcome as the US is getting more hostile towards Iran. A pro-Iran government in Iraq could risk making Iraq a battlefield between the US and Iran, which would come at a tremendous toll on the Iraqi economy, and the Iraqi people.