Amid Iraqi political turmoil, US ‘welcomes’ final election results

Now that the results of the May 12 vote are certified, Iraq’s political parties have 90 days to create a new governing coalition, according to the Iraqi constitution.
author_image Kurdistan 24

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement on Monday, welcoming the certification, after a protracted delay, of the final results of Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary elections.

On Sunday, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court announced that it had ratified the election results, three days after the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) delivered the votes.

Controversy dogged the election, because of widespread complaints of fraud in the initial tally, for which the electoral commission was blamed. A partial manual recount followed, itself marred by a fire in a warehouse where ballots were stored.

Now that the results of the vote are certified, Iraq’s political parties have 90 days to create a new governing coalition, according to the Iraqi constitution.

We “are encouraged by the commitment of Iraq’s newly elected leaders to form a new government on Iraq’s constitutional timeline,” the US Embassy stated.

However, Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American and head of the Future Foundation in Washington DC, scoffed at the embassy’s announcement.

Qanbar attributed the statement to Brett McGurk, appointed under President Barack Obama as the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition against the Islamic State (IS.) Qanbar felt that the statement’s cheery tone was unwarranted.

McGurk is now in Iraq, where he is engaged in a duel with Maj. Gen. Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to shape Iraq’s next government.

“Formation of a new government is solely an Iraqi matter and should be conducted in a manner that protects Iraq’s national interests and sovereignty,” the embassy said.

Iraqis are well-aware, however, of the tug-of-war between the US and Iran for influence in their country.

Indeed, on Sunday night, a coalition of Shi’ite parties was announced, which described themselves as “the nucleus” of the new government.

In a coordinated move, the Kurdish and Sunni parties, in turn, announced their conditions for joining the new government, following a meeting held in Erbil and chaired by Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP.)

A meeting between KDP President and former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Sunni factions represented in the National Front Coalition in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Aug. 19, 2018. (Photo: Barzani's website)
A meeting between KDP President and former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Sunni factions represented in the National Front Coalition in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Aug. 19, 2018. (Photo: Barzani's website)

The KDP finished fourth in the elections, winning 25 seats, ahead of the other Kurdish parties, the Sunni parties, and even some major Shi’ite parties.

The Shi’ite “nucleus” of the announced governing coalition consists of Sayiroon (Muqtada al-Sadr), Nasr (Haider al-Abadi), Hikma (Ammar al-Hakim) and al-Wataniyya (Ayad Allawi.)

That, along with the Kurds and Sunnis, would have been an Iraqi national coalition, focused on Iraqi interests, and acceptable to the US—indeed, about the best that the US could have hoped for.

The formation of that coalition, in Qanbar’s view, was due to two factors. One was Sadr’s work in assembling it and creating the consensus.

The other factor—the strategic context—was the strong stance that President Donald Trump has taken against Iran since the new national security team came into office that includes Amb. John Bolton, as White House National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo, as Secretary of State.

The tough US stance against Tehran created an environment in which key Iraqi political figures felt they could “jump ship” and did not have to accommodate Iran, Qanbar told Kurdistan 24.

However, no sooner was the Shi’ite “nucleus” of the coalition announced, than Qasim Soleimani stepped in, on Sunday night, with threats against those very politicians.

Within Abadi’s own party, Falih al Fayadh, Iraq’s National Security Council Advisor, and Aras Habib, whom the US recently sanctioned for his ties to Iran, but who nonetheless remains on Abadi’s electoral list and is set to become a member of the new Iraqi parliament, conveyed the threats.

Although Abadi won 42 seats, only 13 of those representatives appeared at the press conference that followed the announcement of the Shi’ite coalition. Others in the Shi’ite parties also dropped out, but not those from Sadr’s or Allawi’s lists.

In addition, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Deputy Head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi), threatened the Sunni representatives, Qanbar explained.

Muhandis has worked with Tehran for decades and was, in fact, indicted for the 1983 bombings of the US and French embassies in Kuwait. Already in 2009, the US designated him and his group, Kata'ib Hizballah, as a terrorist organization.

Yet Muhandis, somehow, achieved a senior position in Baghdad, with the ability to command forces that can intimidate Iraqis and carry out the very threats now coming from Tehran that aim to influence the formation of the next Iraqi government.

Thus, the situation in Baghdad remains quite uncertain.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie