The growing interference of Iran separates the groups in an election anticipated by the social protests of 2019 and that may be the last before the US withdrawal
Iraq votes this Sunday 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 two decades of war and the Taliban are in 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.
In 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, respectively, were killed in an attack with a US drone 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.
They are 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, demonstrated in Baghdad and the big cities of the south, from Shiite majority, to show their rejection of unemployment, corruption, Iranian interference and a political system that has condemned the nation to sectarian and ethnic division.
The Iraqis paid for this uprising with the blood of at least 700 protesters, but achieved the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the advancement 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% registered in 2018.
I cannot vote. Everything is a theater organized by the usual ones so that nothing changes, “laments the 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.
The Shiite parties, the majority sect of Islam in Iraq, have always won the elections and have joined forces to achieve the necessary majority. This time, however, the formations are at odds with each other and it is unknown how the new coalitions will develop. “Our opinion about Iran separates us. Tehran has exceeded all possible limits of interference and we ask it to get out of the internal affairs of Iraq, but others do not think the same, “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 social support of this religious nationalist whose family is venerated by Shi’ism.
The Capitol and the flags
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, the moment of the split in Islam and calls for the resistance of Shi’ism against the American occupation. These Shiite militias were key in the defeat of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), they are now part of the armed forces and go to the polls in the pro-Iranian coalition Al Fateh along 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 Dr. Soheila, candidate for Parliament for 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 and friendly country whose support was decisive in the fight against the Islamic State. They respect our sovereignty and we share the view that normalizing relations with Israel is unacceptable. ”
Despite the strong difference between parties, the Shiites of Iraq have in common that, whatever the internal problem between them, they always respect the final word of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Sunnis are also fragmented between the Taqaddum list of the last speaker of the House and the most popular personality 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 autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.