Iraq votes in the fifth general elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein and those that may be the last with a US military presence. The Americans left Afghanistan after 20 years of war and the Taliban have the power and, if the agreement in summer is fulfilled, they will withdraw their combat forces from Iraq on December 31 after 18 years of military operation that leaves a country in the hands of the Shiite religious parties, close to Iran, and their militias.
On the streets of Baghdad the figures of Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis and Qasem Suleimani, leader of the Popular Mobilization Units and general of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran assassinated in
an American drone attack ordered by Donald Trump in January 2020, they have more weight and presence than the candidates for parliament. Whoever wins, the future prime minister will once again need the go-ahead from Washington and Tehran, the two great powers that have pulled the strings in Baghdad since 2003.
Son the first early elections in the modern history of the country since they were called to try to calm the protests that hit the streets in October 2019. Thousands of people, especially young people, took to the streets of Baghdad and the large southern cities, mostly Shiite, to demonstrate against unemployment, corruption, Iranian interference and a political system that has condemned the country to sectarian and ethnic division. The Iraqis paid with the blood of at least 700 protesters for this uprising, but achieved the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the advance of the elections and the introduction of a series of changes in the electoral law to try to facilitate the entry of candidates. independent among the 327 members of the chamber. Early voting is a concession to those protests, but its protagonists call for a boycott of the polls because they think that nothing will change and it is feared that the turnout will be less than the 50 percent registered in 2018.
I cannot vote. Everything is a theater organized by the usual ones so that nothing changes, “he laments Baghdad poet Ali Al Bahadili. Sitting with his closest friends in the central cafe Ridha Alwan laments “the chaos that the Americans brought to Iraq and from which we cannot get out with a system that condemns us to sectarianism. Sometimes I think that only a nuclear bomb can save us so that everything blows up and we start from scratch, free from religious parties.
One of the most repeated slogans by the protesters was “no to the muhasasa”, name of the quota system by which the prime minister and strongman of the country must be Shiite, the Kurdish president and the spokesman of the Sunni chamber, a style to what happens in Lebanon.
Division among Shiites
The Shiite parties, the majority sect of Islam in the country, have always won the elections and joined forces to achieve the necessary majority in the chamber. This time, however, the formations are facing each other and it is unknown how the new coalitions will develop. “We are separated by our opinion regarding Iran. We believe that Tehran has exceeded all possible limits of interference and we ask him to leave the internal affairs of Iraq, but others do not think the same, “he says. Usam Husain, spokesman for the movement of the cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, winner in 2018 and who aspires to repeat victory thanks to the strong social support of this religious nationalist whose family is venerated by Shiism.
At the headquarters of the almighty militias of the Popular Mobilization Units, a huge photomontage of the Capitol surrounded by red flags presides over one of the entrances. It is the memory of the battle of Karbala, moment of the split in Islam and appeals to the resistance of Shi’ism against the US occupation. These Shiite militias were key in the defeat of Daesh, they are now part of the armed forces and go to the polls in the pro-Iranian Al Fateh coalition together with former Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki.
“Our priority is the protection and reconstruction of Iraq, and protection begins with the complete withdrawal of the United States, if they do not comply with what has been agreed, we have several options on the table because we must be a free and independent country,” says the doctora Soheila, candidata al parlamento por Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the most powerful militias. In his office there is a huge photograph of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and several photos of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with the slogan “closer and closer.” The candidate considers Iran “a neighboring country and friend whose support was decisive in the fight against the Islamic State, they respect our sovereignty and we share with them the opinion that normalizing relations with Israel is unacceptable.”
Despite the strong difference between parties, the Iraqi Shiites have in common that, whatever the internal problem between them, they always respect Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s final word.
Fragmentation at all levels
Sunnis are also fragmented between the Taqaddum list of the last president of the chamber and personality with the most pull within the sect, Mohamed Al Bousi, and the Azm party of businessman Khamar Al Khanjar. Among the Kurds, as is traditional, the favorite is Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the hegemonic force in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of northern Iraq.