06 October 2021

Within the Framework of its Follow-up of Regional and International Developments

  • Participants underline the need for a socio-political contract to achieve overall reconciliation
  • Loss of confidence and sectarian divisions are the leading threats to political stability
  • The political quota system has undermined Iraq and its institutions

As part of its diverse series of activities within the framework of its follow-up of regional and international events, TRENDS Research and Advisory organized an e-symposium entitled: “Iraqi Parliamentary Elections 2021: Challenges and Opportunities”, with the participation of Dr. Bilal Wahab, Nathan and Esther K. Wagner fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, USA; Dr. Munqith Dagher, MENA director and a board member of Gallup International, USA; Dr. Huda Al-Nuaimy, Political Islam Advisor at TRENDS Research and Advisory; Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, Founding President, Middle East Research Institute, USA; and Raed Al-Hamid, independent researcher on Iraqi affairs.

All participants in the symposium agreed that Iraq is facing a crisis of confidence and that the political quota system, inter alia, has weakened the law of the state and increasingly undermined state institutions. They stressed that Iraq needs to establish a socio-political contract for comprehensive reconciliation between ethnic and sectarian components that adopts the principle of citizenship and loyalty to Iraq as an alternative to the principle of political quotas currently in force. They stated that the elections may not change the reality of the current structure.

In her introduction to the symposium, Fatima Alhbabi of TRENDS Research and Advisory identified the symposium’s themes in terms of: the map of political forces and networks of electoral alliances; the circumstances and challenges under which the elections are held; the regional and international impact on their results; and possible scenarios for forming the next government and opportunities for the desired changes. The moderator of the symposium, Sultan Majed, Deputy Head of Scientific Research Sector at TRENDS, pointed out that the symposium is especially important considering the approach of the Iraqi parliamentary elections on October 10, 2021, and that it comes within the framework of the Center’s follow-up of and interest in regional and global issues and the development of visions and perceptions about these.

Map of political forces and networks of internal electoral alliances

Dr. Bilal Wahab started his remarks by touching upon the map of political forces and networks of internal electoral alliances. He said that the upcoming Iraqi elections are a product of the demands of the Iraqi people, especially the young who took to the streets calling for positive change in a political landscape characterized by debate, division, disharmony and fighting since 2005. He added that the political system in Iraq was designed by forces that feared losing power. Those forces were determined to dominate the political scene, which prompted the youth to rise up against them and demand radical change which would serve the interests of the national state.

Dr. Bilal Wahab stated that the popular demands were not seeking to repeat Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections. He indicated that the presence of militias in the Iraqi parliament meant that the body had lose its legitimacy and limited its ability to serve the Iraqi national agenda. This resulted in the massive protests that took place in Iraq, changed the rules of the political game, and made the government submit its resignation. They also led to the formation of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government.

He noted that the youth force that came out on the Iraqi street forced the state to listen to their voices and national calls, which aspire to restore the state’s prestige from the militia forces that serve foreign agendas. They also indicated that the United States had a major role in supporting the corrective movement of the Iraqi political path because it realized that the interest of the Iraqi people rather than the rulers or politicians of all stripes and affiliations should receive support and priority.

Circumstances and challenges under which the Iraqi elections are held

For his part, Dr. Munqith Dagher, in the second presentation of the symposium, touched upon “the circumstances and challenges under which the Iraqi elections are held”.

He explained that the political system in Iraq was designed after 2003 so that the ballot box would be the primary means for the transfer of power in Iraq. Unfortunately, during those years before 2019, the system could not respond to the process of change sought by the Iraqi people. However, the uprising of the youth in Iraq forced the government to resign and pushed for early parliamentary elections.

Dr. Dagher noted that the political forces stood against the demands of the youth to hold early elections. However, the Iraqi youth announced a boycott of those elections. He expected that the results of the parliamentary elections would be contrary to what the youth expect and demand, which would fuel renewed unrest and protests as the elections would be based on the rates of popular participation in the voting process, which had in turn encouraged some political currents to mobilize their allies to increase participation rates.

Dr. Dagher stated that the new electoral system makes it almost impossible for any researcher to predict the election results or popular participation rates due to the division of electoral districts into 83 constituencies. However, Gallup International attempted to predict election results and participation rates, and concluded that turnout for the election would range between 35 and 40 percent.

He added that Gallup’s expectations concluded that the highest voting rates would be among Kurds (50 percent), and that voting rates are expected to be 35 percent for the Shiites, and between 30 and 40 percent for the Sunnis. Dr. Dagher stressed that the parliamentary elections would not result in a real change in the Iraqi political scene, and would provoke lots of debate and protests in the Iraqi street.

Dr. Huda Al-Nuaimy touched upon the circumstances and challenges under which the Iraqi elections are being held, explaining that political quotas, inter alia, have weakened the law of the state and increasingly undermined its institutions. She also noted that many ministries and institutions are currently under the authority of political parties and their armed factions, and that there are large areas in the north and west of Iraq controlled by paramilitary groups, which renders the local administrations unable to act according to the law or to rectify distortions or deviations.

She indicated that there is a fundamental problem that prevents the building of state institutions in Iraq, which has led to the crisis of confidence between the parties to the political process as a whole. Dr. Huda Al-Nuaimy also noted that Iraq is divided into several ethnic and religious sects and minorities, and stressed that the political dilemma lies in the loss of political confidence between Arabs and Kurds seeking to achieve the greatest degree of political gains and independence from the federal authority. In the context of the religious-sectarian division, this also casts a shadow over the political situation to the extent that it threatens stability in Iraq.

Limits of the regional and international influence on the results of the upcoming elections

Subsequently, Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen said that in relation to the regional and international impact on the results of the elections, the Iraqi components failed to establish a true democracy. However, he pointed out that the fact that the Iraqi elections will be held on October 10, 2021 means a lot as they come as a result of a youth uprising. He stated that the legitimacy of the elections is not important for the authority, as the political parties do not care about the level of electoral attendance. Ala’Aldeen said that the results of the Iraqi elections would not change anything despite the change in the electoral law; the expectation is that the outcomes of the electoral process would be determined by the players therein and the drivers thereof themselves. He suggested that none of the parties would be able to form a government alone, which would complicate the process of selecting the prime minister given that the post is the focus of competition between many. He stated that the main positions in the Iraqi state would remain unchanged and stressed that the rebellious youth would be the biggest losers.

Possible future scenarios for forming the next government and opportunities for the desired change

Raed Al-Hamid focused on the possible future scenarios for forming the next government and the opportunities for change, shedding light on the most important Shiite political forces active in the post-election government formation scene. He also reviewed the possibilities of naming the candidates to form the government and the obstacles facing the said candidacies. He indicated that the chances of success of the electoral lists in regards to forming the “largest parliamentary bloc” that would be able to nominate its candidate for prime minister are slim. If they do succeed, differences between the parliamentary blocs within the House of Representatives would prevent a vote granting confidence to the new government by the absolute majority of 166. This would suggest that the selection of an “independent” candidate from outside the political blocs could be agreed as a compromise.

With regard to the prospects for possible change after the elections, Al-Hamid indicated that the chances of change are almost non-existent without a radical change in the structure of the political process, which is dominated and shaped by the traditional parties that are convinced that any change would cause real damage to their partisan interests. Al-Hamid stressed that an exit from the current situation requires a real democracy to replace the political quota principle currently in force, and the establishment of a socio-political contract for comprehensive reconciliation between the ethnic and sectarian factions based on the principle of citizenship and loyalty to Iraq.

At the end of the symposium, an open discussion was held on the topics of the symposium and the presentations therein. Subsequently, Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ali, CEO of TRENDS Research and Advisory, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the symposium’s participants for the useful and insightful information they provided, and stressed that TRENDS, by choosing to hold such seminars, seeks to keep abreast of events and provide expert analysis about them.