Political Dynamics and Changing Balances in Iraq After The Elections

Iraq seems to have drifted into a new political, security and administrative crisis following the parliamentary elections on May 12, 2018. The election results are still unclear due to the objections to election results that have emerged on the grounds of fraud and infraction of rules that have resulted from the elections in which the electronic voting system is used and which have generated great debate across the country. In particular, the frauds and irregularities in Kirkuk seem to affect the election results. As a matter of fact, while protests organized by Turkmens against the election results in Kirkuk were echoed throughout the country, the pressure by the Turkmen authorities also prompted the Iraqi Parliament to make a series of decisions regarding the elections. Generating a dispute, the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq decided to recount the controversial ballot boxes in line with the decisions of the Iraqi Parliament. Furthermore, the Iraqi Parliament ruled on the recounting of the foreign votes and the votes of the immigrants and security forces, which were abolished by the decision of the Parliament. What is more, the decision declared that all of the votes in Kirkuk, Saladdin, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, Duhok, Mosul, and Anbar, were to be recounted. According to this decision, the recounting process started in Kirkuk on July, 3. Meanwhile, the security situation started to worsen especially in Kirkuk and its surroundings, and some rumors started to spread that Daesh would reactivate its actions. As a matter of fact, on the day when it was declared that the votes were to be recounted in Kirkuk, 19 people were injured while 1 person lost his life in the attack near the building where the votes were kept. Moreover, cases of kidnappings were carried out against the people, where government officials were present, who were near the Kirkuk-Baghdad road. Subsequently, additional federal police forces were sent to Kirkuk from Baghdad. On the other hand, ballot boxes that were asked to be recounted in Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Wasit, and Diwaniyah were also sent to Baghdad for recounting. However, there are also problems about the recounting of votes. As of July 7, 2018, Turkmens were frustrated by the very fact that the remaining ballot boxes were to be taken to Baghdad and counted there after the 400 of them were counted. According to the recounting made in Kirkuk, it was revealed that more than 60 percent of the votes were cheated in favor of the PUK. This situation will change the balance of votes in Kirkuk.

Furthermore, as of July 1, 2018, the Iraqi Parliament and the government expired. Despite the attempts to extend the parliament's term of office in the Iraqi Parliament, success was not achieved. As the election results were not finalized, it was not possible to convene the new parliament. That is why the parliamentary process in Iraq has stopped. Likewise, due to the expiry of the term of office of the government, there is a legally and constitutionally unauthorized government. This situation is dragging Iraq into a chaotic process. Considering that Iraqi balance of politics and security acts in parallel, it is seen that the extending power vacuums have been filled by terrorist organizations or illegal structures. Indeed, it is asserted that in the recent period Daesh has launched its activities in most of the provinces again, and even taken control of more than 70 villages around Kirkuk, Saladdin, Diyala and around.

However, negotiations regarding the establishment of a government are continuing. It seems that the Sairun Coalition, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, which received most of the votes according to the first election results, is looking for a large government coalition. For Sadr has made separate alliances with Fatah Coalition leader Hadi Al-Amiri, Al-Hikma Coalition leader Ammar Al-Haqim, Nasr Coalition leader Haider Al-Abadi and Al-Wataniya Coalition leader Ayad Allawi. It is said that Al-Sadr is trying to find a middle way by making separate coalitions with each leader as he very well knows that he cannot bring all these names together in a coalition. Muqtada al-Sadr is also seen to be leading a government scenario to be established without Sairun because even though it is politically difficult to establish a government that will leave Sairun out, it is mathematically possible. For this reason, it can be argued that Al-Sadr does not want any development to take place beyond his control. On the other hand, Hadi Al-Amiri and Nuri al-Maliki have made an alliance agreement. Apart from this, most of the Sunnis, scattered in the elections, have taken a joint action decision in the process of forming a government. Accordingly, the Sunni groups already formed a coalition named National Axis Coalition. On the other side, the KDP and PUK also established a commission to act jointly in Baghdad and a delegation went to Baghdad to carry out negotiations regarding the establishment of government. Meanwhile, it is known that Hadi Al-Amiri and Nuri al-Maliki have separately sent delegations to Erbil and proposed to form the largest group in the parliament in order to be able to form the government together.

However, the disagreement between the KDP and the PUK on both domestic politics and regarding the candidacy for the Iraqi Presidential Office is creating troubles for the KDP and PUK to act together. In order for the KDP and the PUK to act jointly in their strategy towards Baghdad, they must first establish their own internal consensus. At this point, the debate over the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliamentary elections to be held on September 30, 2018, is also an obstacle to a possible unity between the KDP and the PUK. However, both the KDP and the PUK are aware of the losses they have suffered as they took stands against one another in the process that followed the last parliamentary elections in the KRG in 2013. As a matter of fact, in the past 5 years, different political factions have emerged in the region where the PUK is dominant. The fact that these political structures are active in Erbil and Duhok, where the KDP is dominant, and the decreasing popularity of the KDP in the post-referendum period, have already taken the KDP and PUK back to their situation before 2013. For the KDP and PUK were moving within the framework of the strategic partnership until the 2013 elections. For this reason, the KDP and the PUK have again cooperated in Baghdad to ensure their effectiveness in the domestic politics. In addition, the Sunni partnership has also forced the KDP and PUK to act together. It should not be overlooked that no matter hard it would be, it is still likely to form a majority government that would leave the Kurds out. At this point, there is also a race between the Kurds and Sunnis to be the key element of the government because there are two government scenarios in the foreground. One is the "national unity government" in which all of the political groups in the parliament have their seats in the government as in the previous periods, and the other is the majority government. In his post-election speeches, Al-Sadr gave occasional signs to the majority government, but his alliances with other groups have pushed the process towards the evolution of the ongoing national unity government. However, it is possible to say that there is a shift in Iraqi political axis. This is because the US and Iran, which are the main players in Iraq and have a significant impact on the process of forming a government, are using different methods and trying to take advantage of each other’s cards.

The existence of the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Suleimani, in Iraq and that he demonstrates vigorous efforts to meet different parties attracts attention. Iran wants to bring Shiite groups altogether, and does not want any of them to act differently from the principles of this Shiite political structure. It does not refrain from using all kinds of pressure tools for this very purpose. Indeed, it is quite meaningful that Iran cut off the electricity provided to the Basra, Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces under the guise of Iraq's debts at the time when the protests were organized against the setbacks in public services in the provinces of Kut, Babylon, Basra in the south of Iraq. In the wake of these electric cut-outs, protests have increased in most of the provinces in the south of Iraq, where Shiites live intensely. Even deaths and injuries were experienced in Basra due to the intervention of the security forces. The rise of tensions with the given demonstrations will put the Shiite groups even more in trouble. In this regard, it is possible to say that Iran gave a message to the Shiite groups. After the pressures of the United States, Iran does not want to lose control over Iraq, which is regarded as both an economic, political and geopolitical opening field. However, it is difficult to say that Iran has an absolute influence on all of the Shiite groups, as in the past. In particular, Muqtada al-Sadr's statements and stand shows that the balances have changed. That is why Iran seems to be moving with more than one strategy. Indeed, it is possible to assert that if Iran cannot bring together the Shiite groups, it will focus on different options. It is likely to evaluate the visits by Amiri and Nuri al-Maliki to Erbil in this sense. On the other side, the US plans to reinforce its pressure on Iran through the pressure again on it in Iraq. For this reason, it struggles not to provide a power vacuum to Iran in Iraq. The US has particularly adopted a plan of action over the Shiite groups on which Iran has a remarkable influence. It is known that the driving force behind the alliance among Sadr, Al-Hakim, and Abadi is the United States. At this point, the US is trying hard to incorporate names like Allawi, on whom it can be influential, to the given cooperation. However, the tension is high between the US and the Kurds, who have developed a natural alliance relationship in Iraq. Thus, it seems that Kurdish groups wink at Iran. However, the Kurds are, on the other hand, afraid to lose the gains they have made since 2003. It is a very fact that the main trigger of the establishment of the KRG after 2003 was the United States. Nevertheless, the relationship established by the US with the PYD in Syria is disturbing Iraqi Kurds, especially the KDP, in terms of its leadership and dominance over the Kurdish movement in the Middle East. The Kurds, who are angry at the US because of its position in the referendum process, are in search of a balance, even if they will not give up the US at all.

At this point, Turkey is in an equilibrium position by all political groups in Iraq. Turkey did not take a clear position regarding the elections in Iraq. Indeed, Turkey's ambassador to Baghdad Fatih Yıldız met with the leaders of almost all leading groups after the elections and reiterated Turkey's support for Iraq. It is therefore seen that Turkey's policy towards Iraq remains at the state level and seems to remain outside of the political sub-accounts. In this process when the balances and alliances in Iraq have begun to change, Turkey's balancing role can provide an advantage. Experiences in Iraq, however, show that it is not possible to achieve stabilization and political reconciliation in Iraq without US-Iran balance. At this point, when the US-Iran conflict and the political process in Iraq are considered together, it is possible to say that a long and complicated process awaits Iraq.