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The Takeaway: Iraq’s elections: What comes next?

Updates from our correspondents in Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt and New York; Multimedia reporting on Kurds, Tel Aviv, Egypt and Sharjah!
Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Oct. 11, 2021.

Hot take: Iraqi government formation: What you need to know

 

The Iraq Supreme Court finally certified Iraq’s Oct. 21, 2021, election results on Dec. 27, and Iraqi President Barham Salih signed a decree on Dec. 30 to convene the 329 seat Council of Representatives, or parliament, on Jan. 9, 2022. 

We won’t speculate here on who ends up where; it’s too early in the game. The first step is to understand the process and the parties — and that this all could take time.

The Process:

  • The parliament convenes on Sunday, Jan. 9, in accordance with the constitution.
  • The largest bloc should be registered in the first session.
  • With the convening of the new parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi will no longer be speaker and the parliament will be presided over during the interim by Mahmoud Mashhadani, its longest-serving member.
  • The next parliament speaker (drawn from the Sunni parties) and his two deputies (a Shiite and a Kurd) should be elected in the first session.
  • The parliament then has a month to choose the president (from the Kurdish parties). 
  • Then the president designates that a prime minister (a Shiite) should be appointed from the largest bloc within 15 days after selecting the president.
  • Sometimes the parliament members are unable to choose the speaker and register the largest bloc within 15 days of the first session as the constitution states, so they leave the first session open and continue the discussion on other days until the two tasks are met. 
  • The government of current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will continue during the government formation process. 

The Parties: 

  • The Sadrist bloc led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won the most seats (73). Sadr has declared his intention to try to form a "majority" government if he can cobble together support totaling 165 seats (minimum for a majority).
  • The other major block vying to be tasked with forming a government is the Coordination Framework composed of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law (33 seats); the Fatah Alliance (17 seats), which is the political wing of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), headed by Hadi al-Amiri and perceived as aligned with Iran; Aqd al-Watani Coalition, headed by Falah al-Fayyad (4 seats), also linked to the PMU and Iran; former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr Coalition (2 seats); cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma bloc (2 seats); and Kataib Hezbollah’s Huqooq movement, also a member of the PMU (1 seat) — a total of 59 seats (at time of publication). Ali Mamouri has the scoop here.
  • Other key parties and players include the Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Massoud Barzani (37 seats); Halbusi’s Taqadum/Progress Party (37 seats); and 43 seats for independents not affiliated with any party. You can see the full election results here.

The Timeline:

How long will it take?  Here’s what we know from past experience:

     2010:  8 months                     Election: March 7; Government Nov. 11

     2018:  5 months                     Election: May 18; Government Oct. 28

     2021:  2+ months (so far)       Election: Oct. 21; Government, TBD

 

Read more: Follow our unmatched Iraq coverage here.

 

From our regional correspondents:

 

1. Israeli leaders increasingly resigned to Iran deal

Publicly, Israel’s leaders have somewhat changed their tune on the Vienna talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recently told Army Radio, ”We are not automatic naysayers.” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid offered a similar take: "We are not against any agreement; a good deal is a good thing.” 

But all that is simply to keep up appearances and backchannel leverage with the Biden administration if a deal is reached. Or not.

Ben Caspit explains that "behind closed doors, Israeli sentiments are deeply negative," as they anticipate a nuclear deal this year.

Meanwhile, Bennett is still waiting after making an informal request for a phone call between President Joe Biden and Bennett to clear the air on any misunderstandings over Iran policy, as Caspit reported here. 

2. Abbas, Gantz both take heat for meeting

A visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the home of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz last week drew heavy criticism on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Daoud Kuttab reports

Hussein al-Sheikh, the lead Palestinian official responsible for liaison with the Israelis, told Al-Monitor that Abbas’ visit was intended to send a final warning to the Israelis that “without a political formula, the situation could easily blow up.”

But Hamas slammed the Abbas-Gantz meeting, with politburo member Hussam Badran calling it “totally oblivious” to Palestinian concerns. 

The meeting also sparked blowback in Israel, and as Mazal Mualem reports here, Abbas’ visit put Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in an awkward position. 

3. Turkish inflation hits record high under Erdogan

Turkey’s annual rate of inflation reached 36% in 2021, its highest point in the 19 years since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party first came to power. Mustafa Sonmez writes that the record inflation announced Monday, which followed a series of interest rate cuts, marks “a fresh blow to Erdogan’s economic credentials” given his insistence that high interest rates cause high inflation. Sonmez breaks down December’s inflation surge, triggered in part by the lira’s continued crash and rising costs of transportation.

4. New York assault sparks pro-Israel protest 

Pro-Israel protesters in New York City took to the streets in solidarity with a Jewish man who was assaulted while wearing an Israel Defense Forces sweatshirt. Reporting from Brooklyn on Sunday, Adam Lucente spoke to the demonstrators, as well as counter-protesters who gathered to oppose the “normalization” of IDF garb. Among them were pro-Palestinian activists and members of Neturei Karta, a group of devout Jews who oppose the state of Israel on religious grounds. Hear more from the protesters whose dual demonstrations, Lucente writes, exposed the deep divides within the city’s large Jewish and Arab communities. 

5. Can Egypt get back its smuggled artifacts? 

Egypt recently announced the return of 36 artifacts smuggled to Spain in 2014, including a statue of the god Amun and four jars used during an ancient mummification process. But can Egypt recover the rest of its looted artifacts from around the world? Ahmed Gomaa interviewed Magdy Shaker, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ chief archaeologist, who said negotiations to return Egypt’s treasures can take years, especially when dealing with countries that allow artifacts to be sold in auctions. To further complicate matters, a number of countries have not signed on to the international convention requiring the return of stolen antiquities. 

 

Multimedia this week: Kurds, Tel Aviv, Egypt, Sharjah

 

Listen:    Amberin Zaman talks with expert Hiwa Osman on Iraq, Syria and the Kurds in the latest "On the Middle East" podcast. Link here.

Listen:    Ben Caspit speaks with Eytan Schwartz, head of the Tel Aviv Municipality Media and Communications Department, about why "Tel Aviv is the New York of Israel," on the latest "On Israel" podcast. Link here.

Watch:    Sudanese refugees find safe work in Egypt. Link here.

Watch:    Gilles Kepel talks with Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi about "Building Sharjah." Link here.