There was some debate about whether Iraq would hold its next national elections on time. Some Sunni parties wanted a delay. A Federal Court decision sealed the deal and voting will happen as planned on May 12, 2018. The alliances were set beforehand, although there were several attempts at moves after the fact. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi heads into the vote with the upper hand, but there are always twists and turns in Iraqi politics.
For months, Sunni factions were trying to delay the elections. The main reason was that they claimed there were so many people displaced from the war against the Islamic State that they would be denied their votes. They called for the voting to be held in six months or more as a result. In January, they were hoping to get some support from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that was talking about a boycott in Kirkuk because of displaced Kurds there, but that never materialized. On January 18, there was an attempt to vote on the election date, but the National Alliance walked out denying the assembly a quorum to make any decision. The U.S. tried to mediate, holding talks with both the Sunni and Shiite parties, as well as Sunni governors to try to resolve the matter. Mutahindun led by Vice President Osama Nujafi was in the lead in this effort.
The Federal Court decided the issue. Several parliamentarians appealed to the court on whether balloting could be put off or not. On January 21, the court ruled against any delay. Parliament then voted on the May 12 date, and then President Fuad Massum approved it. That ended the debate on the matter.
The alliances and parties that will run in May was announced on January 11. That was the last day to register with the Election Commission. In total, 27 coalitions and 143 parties will be competing. The major alliances are Nasr run by PM Abadi that includes his faction of Dawa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Hussein Shahristani’s Independents, Fadhila, and some small Sunni parties. Ammar Hakim’s Hikma said he would work with Abadi after the vote. Abadi’s main rival is Vice President Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law. The problem for him is that the prime minister has taken almost all the major factions that made up Maliki’s list. Another source of competition is from Fatah made up of 20 pro-Iranian Hashd factions led by Badr’s Hadi Amiri. Nasr and Fatah discussed an alliance after the January 11 deadline, and made a deal that only lasted one day. Since they could not run together this just meant they would cooperate after the vote. Abadi was forced to back off due to criticism from various groups including the clerical establishment in Najaf. Moqtada al-Sadr has an alliance with the Communists as the two have been working together over protests for several months now. Sadr was publicly backing Abadi, but after his talks with Fatah, he said that Abadi was being sectarian and he would not ally with him. That’s likely all talk as Sadr has nowhere else to go. He’s an enemy of both Maliki and the Hashd groups, so despite the complaints he will eventually reconcile with the PM. Speaker Najafi of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Vice President Allawi and his Iraqiya and Salah al-Mutlaq’s Arabiya has one list, and Vice President Nujafi, Jamal Karbuli’s Solution List, and businessman Khamis Khanjar has another. Finally, the Kurdish opposition parties Change, the Kurdistan Islamic Group and the new Democracy and Justice party created Nishtiman/Homeland, while the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) will be running separately. They had a falling out over the federal government taking control of the disputed territories including Kirkuk. There’s also the Kurdistan Islamic Union that was once with the opposition, then aligned with the KDP and PUK, but now has moved away from them as well.
Abadi heads into the election with a strong position with Hikma, Sadr, and the Jabouri, Allawi and Mutlaq list all behind him. There was talk of Badr’s Amiri challenging him for the top spot, but he doesn’t appear to have the numbers right now to pull it off. Maliki was hoping to help him in this effort, but the two have moved apart in recent months. The Kurds are also split. They could try to play spoilers since the KDP is mad at Abadi’s take over the of the disputed areas. On the other hand, the other Kurdish parties are angry at the KDP, and Amiri is a strong critic of the party as well. As usual, anything can happen in Iraqi politics, and the real deal making is not before the vote, but afterward during the government formation process when each party competes for a piece of the government pie, which they use to line their pockets and maintain their patronage networks.
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Bas News, “Iraqi Sunni Arab Factions Push for Postponement of Elections,” 1/14/18
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Reuters, “Iraq’s supreme court rules against election delay,” 1/21/18
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