WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The United Kingdom and the United States congratulated Iraqis following the parliamentary elections on Saturday, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in that country.
Both western countries applauded the vote, although voter turn-out was low—around 44 percent and significantly less than in any previous election since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
In a statement commending the Iraqi people, UK Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, welcomed the May 12 elections as a “historic day for Iraq.”
“We look forward to the announcement soon of the full and final result and will work with all political groups to encourage formation of an effective, inclusive government that addresses the needs and hopes of all Iraqi citizens,” his statement read.
Unlike previous elections, a biometric and electronic voting system was used, meant to streamline the electoral process and prevent voter fraud.
However, the vote tally was not announced in real time—as is the practice in western democracies.
Baghdad still does not know the results of the overseas votes, an informed source told Kurdistan 24, and political maneuvering is going on behind the scenes. Iraq’s High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is expected to announce the results of the election on Monday.
Allegations of fraud have publicly arisen in two places: Kirkuk Province, where the governor ordered a manual recount, as the results were “illogical,” he said, and in Sulaimani Province.
Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi even called for a new vote, because of the “reluctance of the Iraqi people to participate in the election, violence, widespread fraud, misinformation campaigns, and the sale of voter cards.”
Burt’s statement of congratulations added that the UK looks “forward to working with the next government to help deliver stability, security, and prosperity for all Iraqis.”
Newly-appointed US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also congratulated the people of Iraq who had “made their voices heard.”
In his statement, Pompeo expressed hope the election process “moves quickly, and on the constitutional timeline, so that Iraq can continue moving toward a more secure, prosperous, and brighter future.”
In the past, it has typically taken months for Baghdad to form a new government. Such a delay would be particularly unwelcome now, given the fragility of the security situation.
It is unclear what accounts for the low voter turn-out. Possible explanations range from voter disillusion with Iraq’s political process to the heavy security measures put in place to prevent IS attacks.
The Washington Post suggested “calls to boycott the contest over a lack of substantive policy debate appeared to resonate with voters.”
Generally, the vote proceeded peacefully, although in a rural area of Kirkuk Province, IS terrorists attacked Iraqi Security Forces, killing six men.
Also, in the city of Sulaimani, on Saturday night, armed men from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) surrounded the headquarters of the Gorran (Change) political party, as Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzanicalled for an “immediate halt” to such threats to party headquarters in the city.
PUK fraud is widely suspected in its stronghold of Sulaimani, and all of the six other Kurdish parties have now called on the IHEC to conduct a manual recount of the votes in that province.
According to unofficial results obtained by Kurdistan 24, the PUK has lost to other Kurdish parties nearly 25 percent of the seats it held after the 2014 elections. Notably, a faction of the PUK collaborated with the Iraqi-Iranian force that attacked Kirkuk last October, allowing that force to take the city.
Neither the US nor UK statements mentioned the people of the Kurdistan Region, although voter turnout was significantly higher there than in the rest of Iraq.
Both countries have adhered to a “one-Iraq” policy. However, the new US White House National Security Adviser, John Bolton, does not.
In September, shortly before the Kurdistan independence referendum, Bolton told Kurdistan 24, “If their decision is to seek independence for [the Kurdistan Region], I think the United States should recognize it.”
According to a report Saturday in The New York Times, Bolton has already established himself as an influential figure in the Trump administration, enjoying a good rapport with the president.
(Karzan Sulaivany contributed to this report)