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Iraq’s Compromise: Pivotal but Insufficient in Avoiding a Head on Crisis

Following the May 2018 parliamentary elections, Iraq faced three major political proceedings: the election of the Speaker of the Parliament, the President of the Republic and the nomination of the Prime Minister. In the midst of shifting alliances and unexpected popular crises, a political compromise, orchestrated both internally and externally, seemed to have dictated the elections’ aftermath.  Therefore, what were the terms of the compromise and what are the major post-election challenges awaiting the Iraqi State?

The parliamentary elections highlighted a politically dominant quasi-fragmented Shiite environment unable to form a majority; hence, paving way to dialogues and alliances with the Sunnite and Kurdish counterparts. Ensuing months of political deadlocks, a compromise between the largest alliances secured the majority of the seats (169 of 329) and led to the election, on 15 September, of Mohammed al-Halbousi; the Speaker of the Parliament. Nevertheless, the composition of these alliances is key to understand the current balances of power in Iraq’s politics, and the succeeding elections. The election of al-Halbousi is the result of a compromise made by two main coalitions: from one part there is the pro-Iranian Shiite alliance of Ameri-Maliki backed by a pro-Turkish and pro-Qatari Sunnite coalition headed by Khamis al-Khanjar. This rapprochement was pressured by Iran, Turkey and Qatar, and its sustainability depends on the convergence of interests of these three countries[1]. From the other part, there is the nationalist, Iranian penchant, Al-Sairoon coalition of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his allies[2].  The political deal stipulated that the former coalition gets to chose the Speaker while the latter selects his first deputy – Hassan Karum al-Kaabi. The parliamentary results directly received Iran’s blessings and the newly elected Speaker openly criticized the US sanctions and expressed his country’s support to the Iranian people.

The aftermath of the parliamentary elections unfolded some information concerning the pursuant elections. Regarding the Presidential election that occurred on October 3, the two main Kurdish rivals; the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have advocated for the election of different candidates with the KDP backing Fuad Hussein and the PUK supporting Barham Salih[3]. However, the previously mentioned political deal also laid down the distribution of the Kurdish positions between the rival parties. If the Presidency is consecrated to the PUK, the second deputy of the Speaker and the Presidency of Iraqi Kurdistan will go to the KDP[4]. The election of KDP-nominated Bashir al-Haddad as second deputy validates the application of the compromise. Therefore, Mr. Barham became Iraq’s President of the Republic, and due to his good relations with the US and Iran; he will constitute a middle ground between the main two opposing exterior actors in Iraq; nevertheless, with a strategic advantage for Iran[5].

Concerning the Prime Minister, the Sairoon and the Ameri-Maliki alliance, in accordance with prior negotiations between Muqtada al-Sadr, Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the commander of Iran’s special forces unit Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, agreed on the support of Adel Abdul Mahdi for the position[6]. Abdul Mahdi succeeded at replacing current Prime Minister Haider Abadi marking the first time, in the post-2003 history of Iraq, that a non-Dawa Party-member holds the title of Prime Minister. The United-States favored Mr. Abadi faced several obstacles which stood against his re-election[7]: Basra’s popular protests and the failure of Abadi to efficiently cope with the people’s demands, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s call to cleanse the Government from traditional elites, Abadi’s compliance with al-Sistani, Abadi’s defense of the US sanctions, and the Dawa Party accusations holding Abadi responsible for the split within the Party[8].  Even though members of the Dawa Party organized a meeting, on September 22, bringing together Nouri al-Maliki, the secretary-general of the party, with Abadi in hopes of preserving the Iraqi premiership, this initiative was not able to replace the so-called compromise[9]. Similarly to the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister – designate Abdul Mahdi maintains friendly relationships with both the US and Iran[10], and his election is not regarded as a loss for Iran.

In conclusion, no matter which national coalition or foreign actor gets the upper hand, when the Iraqi Government will be formed, it will have to deal with several obstacles threatful to its stability and development. One can mention two important issues: the aggravation of the situation in Basra, and the indirect influence of US Sanctions on Iraq. Concerning Basra, Mr. al-Halbousi stated that the Parliament’s first concern should be directed towards the needs and demands of its people[11]. However, if the Government fails again at meeting its responsibilities, the on-going popular unrest might transform into a new type of political movement and language; advocating socio-economic rights and regional identities over sectarian or national ones. Besides, if the protests in Basra lead to demands of establishing a federal state in the region, Baghdad will receive a painful economic blow since Basra provides 80% of the country’s revenues and holds 60% of its energy reserves[12]. Regarding the sanctions, strong economic bonds between Iraq and Iran in areas such as import, tourism and finance, will be subject to the US measurements and restrictions targeting Iran and will be indirectly affected making Iraq a victim of collateral damage. The already unstable Iraq might risk an economic crisis followed by a political and securitarian chaos if the sanctions cripple economic relations between the neighboring countries forcing Iran to abuse of its influence in Iraq, destabilizing it even further to evade US Sanctions. Hence, the US must find a way to balance between avoiding a crumbling Iraq and containing an interventionist Iran[13].

[1] Mohammed Abdul Jabbar, “Iran wa Qatar” wara tahalof al-siyasi al-senni Khamis al-Khanjar maa Hadi al-Amiri wa Nuri al-Maliki, Erm News, 5 September 2018

(Mohammed Abdul Jabbar, “Iran and Qatar” behind the political alliance of Sunni Khamis al-Khanjar with Hadi al-Amiri and Nuri al-Maliki, Erm News, 5 September 2018)

Link: https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/1482600

[2] Entikhabat majles al-nouwab: tawafouqat tarajoh kafat houlafa Tohran, al-akhbar, 17 September 2018

(Elections of the House of Representatives: Agreements favor the allies of Tehran, al-akhbar, 17 September 2018)

Link: al-akhbar 1

[3] Mina Aldroubi, Kurdish parties nominate rival candidates to Iraq’s presidency, The National, 24 September 2018

Link: https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/kurdish-parties-nominate-rival-candidates-to-iraq-s-presidency-1.773510

[4] Op. cit., Mohammed Abdul Jabbar

[5] “Al-taswiya” tantazer al-khotwa al-taliya: Barham Salih aqrab liriasat al-jomhouriya, al-akhbar, 20 September 2018

(“The compromise” awaits the next step: Barham Salih is closer to the presidency of the Republic, al-akhbar, 20 September 2018)

Link: al-akhbar 2

[6] Makram Najmuddine, Powerful Shiite trio agrees on Iraqi prime minister candidate, Al-Monitor, 26 September 2018

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/iraq-elections-prime-minister-sadr-soleimani-abdulmahdi.html

[7] Mamoon Alabbasi, Abadi edged out of prime minister’s race but real change in Iraq remains remote, The Arab Weekly, 16 September 2018

Link: https://thearabweekly.com/abadi-edged-out-prime-ministers-race-real-change-iraq-remains-remote

[8] Qada fi hezeb al-dawa youhamiloun al-Abadi masouliyat enqisam al-hezeb ila qaimatayn fi al-entikhabat, qanat al-ettijah, 18 September 2018

(Leaders of the Dawa Party hold Abadi responsible for dividing the party into two lists in the elections, aletejahtv, 18 September 2018)

Link: http://aletejahtv.com/archives/254580

[9] Op. cit., Makram Najmuddine

[10] Borzou Daragahi, Iraq’s Top 10 Potential Prime Ministers, Foreign policy, 15 May 2018

Link: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/15/iraqs-top-10-potential-prime-ministers/

[11] Op. cit., Elections of the House of Representatives: Agreements favor the allies of Tehran

[12] Harith Hasan, The Basra Exception, Carnegie Middle East Center, 19 September 2018

Link: http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/77284?lang=en

[13]Tomer Fadlon & Sason Hadad, Collateral Damage: How US Sanctions against Iran Harm Iraq, INSS, 13 September 2018

Link: http://www.inss.org.il/publication/collateral-damage-how-us-sanctions-against-iran-harm-iraq/

Yves-Emmanuel Rouhana
Yves-Emmanuel Rouhana
Yves-Emmanuel graduated from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in 2017 with a bachelor in International Relations and is now enrolled in a specializing Master in Middle Eastern Studies at Universita’ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. At present, he is writing his thesis on the collective un/consciousness of the Lebanese communities. He has worked with multiple non-governmental organizations, writing and participating in the implementation of various projects. He took part in different initiatives that mainly focused on awareness and advocacy in the socio-environmental field. His polymath approach also allowed him to write and publish articles during his undergrad studies, on an academically lead online platform: “Perspectives Libanaises”. Yves-Emmanuel is currently an intern at the Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies (MEIRSS).