On October 10th, parliamentary elections were held in Iraq, leading to a win of the Sadrist party. This party increased its number of seats from 54 to 73, with 311 of the 329 parliament seats divided. Many of the other parties which had been the biggest parties after the 2018 elections have lost many seats, sometimes leaving only a quarter of their previous amount. Since then, the losing pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim parties and armed groups denounced the poll results and declared the elections to be fraudulent. They called on their supporters to protest the election results and demand a recount, and lodged hundreds of complaints and appeals to Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). The protests and complaints have slowed the division of parliamentary seats, and as a result it will likely take some more time before the results are completely certain.
The losing political parties protest
One of the parties that suffered losses due to these elections is the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament. The party had 48 seats, but it has now shrunk to 16 seats. In response to its devastating election result, the alliance lodged appeals to the election commission. They claimed that the results had been forged by both Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government and “external parties”, a probable reference to the United States. However, on October 27, the Election Commission announced that the judiciary had rejected almost all of the appeals filed against the preliminary results, citing a “lack of evidence”. Some appeals were nevertheless accepted, and a recount of the election results is currently underway.
Effects beyond seat distribution
The elections have not only affected political parties and the division of party seats. Other groups active in Iraq, have also been affected, most notably military groups. Closely connected to the Fatah Alliance is the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). The PMF is a pro-Iranian former paramilitary network that actively fought against ISIS in the 2010s. They have since become part of the Iraq state structure, securing salaries and weapons from the Iraqi government, while not always adhering to its command and control structure. Activists further accuse the Hashd of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.
The election results form a serious threat to the power of the PMF. Muqtada al-Sadr, the big winner of the elections, has previously declared that some PMFs are “weakening Iraq, its people, and its state,” and therefore, the Sadrist victory could be the first step to limiting the power of the military groups and strengthening state control of the use of weapons.
As a reaction to the poor results of the Fatah Alliance and in extension the Hashd al-Shaabi, sporadic protests have been organized across Iraq, with the main protest erupting on October 19th in Bagdad. Hundreds of supporters of the Hashd al-Shaabi took to the streets to protest against the ‘fraudulent’ results of the elections, and the poor performance of their party. The supporters gathered on the road leading to the high-security ‘Green Zone’, and set up tents to prevent entry. The protesters demanded the high national elections commission to conduct a recount of the votes, and claimed that there were “international and foreign parties” that intervened in the results of the election. This has been viewed as extremely unlikely by the other parties and election observers, but supporters of the losing parties nevertheless hold on to this claim.
On October 27 the election commission started its recount, saying it would “manually recount the votes of the 234 contested electoral stations based on 18 appeals distributed across the governorates Salah al-Din, Basra, and Bagdad, as these appeals were supported by some evidence”. The question now remains what will happen once the recount results are made public and what the consequences will be for the government formation process.