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From 1979 until 2003 Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party ruled Iraq. It was a secular, but Sunni-dominated regime. In 2003 Saddam Hussein was overthrown when the US-led coalition invaded the country. Hussein was executed in 2006. When in April of 2014 parliamentary elections were held in Iraq, Haydar al-Abadi became the new Prime Minister and formed a government. One of the new government’s main aims was to re-establish security in the country. However, subsequent governments were unable to do so. In 2014 and 2015 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control over large parts of Iraq.

In the aftermath of the ISIS conflict, parliamentary elections were surprisingly won by the Shia cleric Sadr and his reform coalition. Adil Abdul-Mahdi was installed as Prime Minister and shortly after Barham Salih was appointed as President. In October of 2019, protests erupted in the capital with many other cities soon following suit. The protest movement was calling for a complete overhaul of the Shiite-dominated regime and demanded sovereignty, independence and clean government. Protesters pointed to endemic corruption and accused the political elite of putting the country’s oil wealth in their own pockets. It was brutally repressed, with 500 protesters being killed and almost 20.000 left injured.

After months of protests, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi handed in his resignation. This happened after 40 demonstrators were killed by security forces on a single day. His government maintained its position as a caretaker government. In May of 2020, shortly after the country was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was installed as the country’s new prime minister. Protesters were glad to see Abdul-Mahdi resign, but are not satisfied yet. They have been ongoing, which is not unsurprising given the dire state of the country’s economy. In July of 2020, Al-Kadhimi announced that early elections would take place in June 2021, later rescheduled to October 10.

These elections were won by the Sadrist party, led by popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He runs on a anti-corruption platform and distances himself from Iran-influenced political parties in the country. Since the October 2021 elections, Iraqi politics found itself in another deadlock. Sadr wished to form a majority government with the Kurdish KDP and Sunni Taqadoom party of speaker al-Halbousi. However, this is unpopular to many parties, as this would exclude others. A coalition of the most prominent Shia parties united as the Coalition Framework (CF) against Al-Sadr’s coalition attempt. Until now, Iraq has always had coalitions that included all parties.

In the following months, Iraqi parliament remained unable to elect a president, prolonging the deadlock. In a shock move, Sadr decided to withdraw all his parliamentarians, forcing them to resign in June 2022, hoping to deligitimese the government. In October 2022, a new prime minister – Mohammed al-Sudani (CF) – was finally appointed, who then managed to form a government. The government included many old faces, demonstrating that the hard-fought protests in recent years did not lead to the demanded political changes.

Key Info

1 Political Situation

Iraq gained independence in 1932, after being a League of Nations mandate under British administration since 1920. The coup d’état in 1958 led to an end of the monarchy and a republic was established. From 1979 to 2003 the country was ruled by President Saddam Hussein. Until 2003 Iraq remained a de facto Arab nationalist and socialist one-party state. In 2003 the government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the US-led invasion. The United States claimed they invaded the country because of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, and secondly to introduce democracy. However, these weapons of destruction were never found.

Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces in December 2003, and executed by an Iraqi military court in 2006. His party, the Baath Party, was dissolved. Many Baathists, such as the former army and intelligence officers, later joined IS and have reportedly played a significant part in its rise. Elections were held in 2005 and 2010, while the country seemed to have become more stable. This image quickly changed with the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a Sunni Arab rebellious group that was formed following a merger of different Iraqi insurgent groups.

In 2013 the ISI started expanding rapidly to parts outside Iraq. The group adopted the name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2013 and proclaimed itself an Islamic State (IS) in January 2014. The militant group has spread over central and northern Iraq and Syria, leaving a trail of death and destruction. In response to this threat, a US-led coalition of regional and Western powers started a campaign of airstrikes in 2014. ISIS was defeated over several years. Leaving a country devastated behind. Iraq is plagued by sectarian violence, corruption and political infight. The 2018 elections yielded surprising results, but the Abdul-Madhi government had been unable to gain the trust of Iraq’s citizens.

Ongoing 2019 protests

Mass demonstrations erupted in Baghdad on the 1st of October and rapidly spread to every major city in Southern Iraq. Dominated by young people (almost 3 in 5 Iraqi’s are under 25) the protesters are overwhelmingly Shiites. But since the beginning, these protesters have called for a complete overhaul of the Shiite-dominated regime that has ruled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein, charging it with being corrupt, incompetent, and fatally infected by sectarianism, Islamism and Iranian penetration. The demands of the protest movement were also clear: sovereignty, independence and clean government.

Instead of starting a conversation with the protest movement and initiating reform, the government almost immediately chose the path of brutal repression. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed, abducted, tortured or disappeared. Around 20,000 have been injured. Iraq’s political elite has been mostly silent about the suppression of the protesters. Few spoke out and joined. However, in December of 2019 the mounting pressure caused Abdul-Mahdi to resign. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iraq in March of 2020, protests were temporarily interrupted, but grew in size again in the course of 2021.

In an effort to calm those taking to the streets, newly appointed Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi announced early elections, which eventually took place on October 10, 2021. They were rescheduled because Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) needed more time to organise the polls. People have continued to take to the streets since then, demanding the entire political system to be dismantled. The unrest is unsurprising, considering the dire state of Iraq’s economy. Iraq is heavily dependent on its oil exports, which make up 90-95% of the state’s income. The combination of a sharp drop in oil prices and COVID-19 restrictions has proven lethal for its population.

The 2021 Parliamentary elections

The latest elections in Iraq had a chaotic run-up. The delay to October, and a boycott by the Sadrist movement in July 2021 resulted in several other parties questioning the possibility of free and fair elections. However, on August 27, Sadr decided to reverse his boycott and did eventually take part in the October elections. Iraq has an electorate of 22,116,368 eligible voters, of which 9,077,779 voted – a turnout of 41,05% (IHEC). This low turnout reflects the low legitimacy of the current political system in Iraq, as many people do not feel that voting would change anything to the current political and economic crises.

IHEC announced results on October 11 – these were ratified by the Iraqi Supreme Court on December 27, 2021. The Sadrist political bloc received 73 seats, becoming the largest party by a wide margin. The Fatah alliance, affiliated to pro-Iran militias, won 17 seats, losing many after the 48 they acquired in the 2018 elections. The Taqaduum party, Sunni-affiliated, won 37 seats, becoming second-largest in parliament. The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) won 31 seats. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan won 17, one less than in 2018. An also interesting result was the seat-win of the Imtidad movement, organised by civil activists after the 2019 protests. They won 9 seats in Parliament.

Post-election deadlock

After the elections, Iraqi parliament was divided into two opposing factions: the Saving the Homeland alliance (SH) and the Coordination Framework (CF). SH consists of the the Shiite Sadrist movement, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sunni Taqadoom party. The CF includes the Shia State of Law and Fatah alliances, as well as some small Sunni parties and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Breaking the post-2003 tradition of consensus coalitions, Sadr wanted to form a majority government with the SH. This would exclude the powerful parties affiliated to the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), a conglomerate of Iran-loyal militias that have become forceful after the defeat of IS. These are part of the CF. Inside and outside parliament the Hashd has a major influence on Iraqi politics. As the election of a President needs the approval of two-thirds of MP’s, the CF has been able to block all proceedings in Sadr’s attempt to form a coalition. This has completely paralysed the Iraqi parliament, blocking important food and energy security bills from passing into law.

Historically, this process has always been troublesome, as various Iraqi parties attempt to gain maximal power from coalition negotiations. Power in Iraq often comes in the form of a ministry, or powerful political appointments, ensuring financial benefits for their own constituencies and leverage over rival parties. In this set-up, Iraq has been entrenched in “consensus coalitions of national unity”. These foster clientelism and have completely bankrupted and crippled the Iraqi state.

In June 2022, Sadr withdrew all his 73 parliamentarians, forcing them to resign. In doing so, he said he wanted to solve the political deadlock. The vacancies of the 73 Sadrist parliamentarians will be filled by the runner-ups in these districts during recent elections. In most cases, these will be ‘Coordination Framework’ parliamentarians, as these opposed Sadr during elections in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq. This means Sadrist voters’ trust in the government decreases only further.

Finally, in October 2022, a new government was installed, led by prime minister Mohammed al-Sudani, which ended a year-long government formation. The government consists of CF parties and supportive allies.


In 1974, the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq was granted limited autonomy by the Iraqi government. However, Iraq continuously tried to get control of the area by military interventions up until 1991, after which a no-fly zone was established above the area in 1991. One year later, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was formed by the Kurdistan National Assembly. Iraqi Kurdistan consists of the governorates of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Duhok and Halabja. A period of fragile peace started after the no-fly zone was introduced. The Kurdish people started to rebuild their society creating a parliamentary democracy.

The main political parties – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) worked together during the 1990s. However, power-sharing arrangements between the two failed, erupting into a civil war from 1994 to 1997. The election in 1996 resulted in the creation of two separate Kurdish states: one state-based in Sulaymaniyah controlled by the PUK, while the other state-based in Erbil and controlled by the KDP. In 2005, Iraq officially recognized the autonomous Kurdistan Region by a referendum. The two administrations were unified into one government and the Kurdish parliament established the Kurdistan Region Presidency (KRP) as an institution.

Masoud Barzani was elected as the first President of Iraqi Kurdistan in January 2005 and was re-elected in 2009. Kurdistan suffered from the ISIS advancement in Northern Iraq from 2014 onwards. Barzani’s term was prolonged during the war. The Peshmerga proved to be an effective force against the rapid advance of ISIS. The Kurdish government reconquered lost territory and even consolidated non-Kurdish territory in Iraq. In the political and military vacuum that existed in Northern Iraq in the aftermath of the ISIS conflict, Barzani called for an independence referendum, causing major international upheaval.

Although the central government in Baghdad didn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the referendum, the Kurdish government went ahead with a vote in September 2017. An overwhelming majority of 92.73% voted for independence. However, Barzani was hesitant to declare Kurdistan independent. No country supported the referendum. In the meantime, Bagdad started a military offensive to reclaim the non-Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq. Barzani eventually resigned as president, leaving the independence movement without a direction and the region without a president until regional elections in late 2018. Nechirvan Barzani has assumed office as president in June of 2019.

Women’s rights

The Iraq war and expansion of ISIS have had a negative impact on the lives of women in Iraq. Many women have become widowed, due to a series of wars and internal conflicts. Especially in the conflict zones, there has been an increase in the oppression of women. The 1970 adopted Iraqi constitution gave women equality and liberty, but since the US-invasion and civil war Iraq has backslidden on women’s rights. The in 2005 adopted constitution states that Islam is the core source of legislation, not contributing to women’s rights. Several components of Iraq’s family law are discriminatory towards women, especially when it comes to divorce, child custody and inheritance. A woman’s testimony is also worth half of that of a man in some cases. Child marriages remain another challenge, with 24% of Iraqi girls being married before turning 18 and 5% were married before the age of 15, in 2018.

There is also still a considerable gender gap when it comes to education and women’s participation in the labour force. Only 12.3% of women were employed or looking for work in 2018. Meanwhile, 26.4% of Iraqi women were illiterate, with numbers above 50% in rural areas, according to a 2019 UNESCO estimate. This number is 11% for men. The education gap is narrowing though, partly because of the hard work of women’s rights organisations. They continue to struggle against harassment and intimidation. In 2008 polygamy was partially abolished in Iraqi Kurdistan regions and Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) was declared criminal. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdown measures, media reported an increase in domestic violence against women.

LGBTI rights

A ban on homosexuality was introduced under British rule and maintained when Iraq became independent in 1932. After the ousting of Sadam Hussein in 2003, homosexuality has become legal on paper. However, in practice homosexuality is not legal, as LGBTI people can still be charged under public indecency law. When convicted under Paragraph 401, people can be charged with a fine and 6 months in prison. LGBTI individuals are subject to widespread discrimination and have no legal means to protect themselves. As such, executions, beatings, honour killings and torture are common. Being gay, or even looking gay, can mean a death sentence under the widely used Sharia law. Reports suggest that the situation has only worsened after the 2003 invasion of the country.

As a result of the harsh societal discrimination and violence, Iraq’s LGBTI community has been one of the most invisible communities in the world. There was barely any LGBTI activism, but the first LGBTI organisations have started working in Iraq now. Rasan was established in 2004 as a feminist women’s rights organisation, but as a partner of COC Nederland started a “Pride Program” in 2012. Another organisation is IraQueer, which developed from an underground Iraqi LGBTI community. Without any political parties advocating for the interests of the LGBTI community and the government denying persecution of LGBTI individuals, these organisations are essential to better the living circumstances for LGBTI individuals.

2 Elections

Electoral system
According to the constitution of 2005, Iraq is a parliamentary democracy with a multi-party system whereby the executive power is exercised by the prime minister, president and Council of Ministers. The president is elected by the Council of Representatives. He or she nominates the prime minister, who has to be approved by the Council of Representatives. The power in Iraq has been shared along ethno-sectarian lines since 2003. Thus the position of prime minister is held by a Shia Arab, the speaker of parliament by a Sunni Arab and the presidency by a Kurd. The president serves mainly a ceremonial function.

The prime minister is the head of government and is the executive authority. The legislative power is vested in the Council of Representatives and the Federation Council. From the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, 320 members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation. The remaining eight seats are reserved for minorities. There is also a 25% gender quota, making sure 26,4% of parliament is made up of women. The Council of Representatives is elected for four years.

2019 Election Law amendments
With the pressure on the government mounting, the Abdul-Mahdi-led government approved the amendment of the Election Law. The alterations allow voters to elect individual legislators instead of choosing from a party list and make sure that each member of parliament represents a specific electoral district, instead of groups of legislators representing entire provinces. This gives independents a better chance of being elected. Previously, parties ran on unified lists and were able to sweep all of the seats in some of the country’s 18 districts, which are now divided into 83 districts.

Parliament of Kurdistan
The Kurdistan Parliament has 111 seats and consists of one elected chamber. In 2009 amendments were made to the election law to increase the inclusiveness of all groups. The minimum age of parliamentary candidates was lowered from 30 to 25. The quota of female MPs was increased from 25% to 30% of the legislature and seats reserved for minority Christian and Turkmen communities were increased to five seats each. Elections are held every four years. Every citizen of the Kurdistan Region with a minimum age of 18 years and on the electoral register is eligible to vote in a direct, universal and secret ballot.

Parliamentary elections

Latest Iraqi parliamentary elections were held on October 10, 2021. Elections were originally planned for June 2021, but delayed as the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) needed more time to organise the elections properly. It were the first elections conducted under the new electoral system, that had changed in 2019.

Voter turnout was 41.05%, the lowest since the first democratic elections in 2005 after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Turnout was relatively high in some of Kurdistan’s regions, with Duhok having the highest turnout nationally with 54%. Kurdistan’s capital Erbil saw a turnout of 46%. Suleymaniyah, the region’s second largest city and the scene of large anti-government protests throughout 2020-2021, saw a turnout of 37%, much lower than neighboring provinces, indicating the low trust in political institutions. This was also visible in Iraq’s federal area – as Baghdad’s both provinces had a low turnout. In Baghdad-al-Rusafa it was 31%, and in Baghdad-Karkh 34%. Iraq’s southern port city Basra, also its second largest city, saw a turnout of 40%. In previous years, Basra has been the scene of many anti-government protests. See the results of the largest parties below.

Party Leader Result 2021 election (%) Result 2021 election (seats) Difference with 2018 result (seats)
Sadrist Movement Moqtada al-Sadr 10.00 73 +19
Progress Party (Taqadoom) Mohamed al-Halbousi 7.20 37 new
State of Law Coalition Nouri al-Maliki 5.67 33 +8
Kurdistan Democratic Party Massoud Barzani 8.83 31 +6
Fatah Alliance Hadi al-Amiri 5.23 17 -31
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Bafel Talabani 4.16 17 -1
Azm Alliance Khamis al-Khanjar 4.76 14 new
Emtidad Alaa al-Rikabi 3.38 9 new
New Generation Movement Shaswar Abdulwahid 2.64 9 +5
Victory Alliance Haider al-Abadi 4.06 4 -38

Observer reactions
The European Union Election Observation Mission in Iraq expressed its worry on the low turnout in the elections and press freedoms. However, it indicated that the elections were technically well-managed and competitive, despite many challenges. According to the spokesperson, these challenges include the electoral reform and some aspects of the legal framework. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) deployed a similar stance, reporting that the elections proceeded smoothly and observing that significant improvements were made regarding the electronic voting system in the country. They also condemned the threats of violence towards IHEC and UNAMI personnel.

Presidential elections

The President is elected by a two-thirds majority of the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s Parliament. The President is elected to serve a four-year term in office, after which he may be re-elected once. The President approves laws which have been passed by Parliament and is the ceremonial head of the Armed Forces. He also fulfils ceremonial duties for Iraq. The President is aided by two Vice-Presidents. Together they form the Presidency Council, which makes decisions by unanimous vote. From 2018-2022, Barham Salih has been the president. After the main presidential candidate, Hoshyar Zebari, had been ruled out by the Iraqi Supreme Court, Abdul Latif Rashid was appointed the new president of Iraq beating outgoing president Salih.

Within two weeks of the appointment of the Presidency Council, a prime minister must be appointed unanimously. If it fails to do so, the responsibility in appointing a new PM goes to the National Assembly. An absolute majority is needed there to confirm a nomination. If the new PM is unable to nominate his Council of Ministers within a month, the Presidency Council will name another new PM. Mohammed al-Sudani succeeded in forming a new government and became the new Prime Minister in October 2022, which ended the 2022 Iraqi political crisis.

3 Political Parties

Social Democratic Parties

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
Party Leader: Bafel Talabani
Number of seats: 17 (Iraqi parliament), 21 (Kurdistan

Other Parties

The Sadrist Movement
Party Leader: Muqtada Al-Sadr
Number of seats: 73
Progress Party (Taqadoom)
Party Leader: Mohamed al-Halbousi
Number of seats: 37
State of Law Alliance
Party Leader: Nouri al-Maliki
Number of seats: 33
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
Party Leader: Masoud Barzani
Number of seats: 31 (Iraqi parliament), 45 (Kurdistan
Fatah Alliance
Party Leader: Hadi Al-Amiri
Number of seats: 17
Azm Alliance
Party Leader: Khamis al-Khanjar
Number of seats: 14
Party Leader: Alaa al-Rikabi
Number of seats: 9
Victory Alliance
Party Leader: Haider al-Abadi
Number of seats: 4

4 Biographies

Muqtada al-Sadr
Leader of largest party
Mohammed Al-Sudani
Prime Minister

Mohammed Al-Sudani is the current Prime Minister of Iraq. He was officially assigned as PM on October 27 2022, after a political deadlock of a year. He succeeded in forming a government mostly consisted of Coalition Framework parties and disciples. Al-Sudani has improved public services so far, but the underlying flaws that enable corruption to flourish have yet to be tackled. Iraqi people are not yet satisfied as the corrupt and nepotistic political system still prevails. Despite the tense situation, Al-Sudani has the task to not let the government fail again, as this would possibly spark a new range of protests.

Al-Sudani, a Shia from the Maysan Province has been politically active since 2004. He has served as governor of Maysan (2009-2010), Minister of Human Rights (2010-2014) and Minister of Labour and Social Affairs (2014-2018). He held all his positions as an independent.
Al-Sudani holds a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Science and a master's degree in Project Management. He is married and has four sons.

Barham Salih
Former President
Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Former Prime Minister
Mohamed al-Halbousi
Speaker of Parliament

Nechirvan Barzani
President Kurdistan Region
Masrour Barzani
Prime Minister Kurdistan Region
Masoud Barzani
Party Leader KDP
Bafel Talabani
Party Leader PUK
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