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Iraqi rival parties can't agree on path to new elections

Although Iraq's two rival Shiite groups, the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework, both agreed on early elections, they can't agree on the details.
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The political crisis resulting from the conflict between Iraq's two main Shiite groups, the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework, is becoming more complicated with fewer options for a solution.

In his first public appearance since Sadrists stormed the parliament building on July 27, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a press conference on Aug. 9 that “there will be no dissolution of the parliament or early elections without the return of the legislature to hold sessions.”

Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for early elections on Aug. 3 in a short press conference. Following his demand, the majority of Shiite political leaders from the Coordination Framework and even independents expressed their agreement and also called for early elections.

This, however, is not easy — and it will bring Iraq back to the source of the problem after the October 2021 elections.

Sadrists won the largest bloc in the elections, gaining 73 seats. They called for a majority government, forming an alliance with the Sunni Taqaddum coalition led by parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi with 62 seats and the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani with 31 seats.

But they failed to form a government due to the Coordination Framework's success in forming a so-called blocking third that stopped the first group from selecting the president — an essential part of forming the government.

The Coordination Framework called for a consensus government willing to participate in the new government or, otherwise, a halt to forming the Sadr-Halbusi-Barzani government at any cost.

Sadr, who has rejected an alliance with the Coordination Framework, finally withdrew from parliament, opening the space for them to form a government.

However, the Coordination Framework’s attempt to form an anti-Sadrist government led by Muhammad Shia Sudani — a figure close to Maliki who has been in a sharp, long dispute with Sadrists — led Sadrists to storm the parliament and stop the Coordination Framework from forming the government.

In such context, if another early election is held, this would take Iraq to the beginning of the problem, as Sadr wants to form a majority government and the Coordination Framework wants a consensus government — and neither will allow the other to form a government alone.

This is in addition to the dispute over the electoral law, the electoral commission and electronic vote counting.

In regard to the electoral law, Iraq adopted the single-member district mandate (single-winner district system of elections) in a 2020 amendment following the 2019 protests in which changing the electoral law was a demand. Prior to that, different methods of the Sainte-Lague method were adopted in Iraq that allowed the transfer of votes from one candidate to another within the same political party. The political forces of the Coordination Framework accuse Sadrists of exploiting the 2020 electoral law to their benefit and asking for a return to the Sainte-Lague method. This needs to be agreed upon among the political parties, and that requires long negotiations — not to mention that Sadrists are not currently represented in parliament and therefore it is impossible to hold such negotiations. All of this will further complicate negotiations over the electoral law.

In regard to the electoral commission, the current commission was formed by independent judges while all previous commissions were formed by representatives of the political parties. Some of the political forces among the Coordination Framework demand a return to the previous ways, which is unlikely to be received positively by Sadrists.

In regard to the vote counting system, the recent elections adopted the electronic system — which stands accused by the Coordination Framework of being exploited by Sadrists, who were able to manipulate the system to their benefit. That is why the Coordination Framework rejected the election results for about two months and organized protests at the gates of the Green Zone. They are now asking for a return to the manual counting system that was used in the past but that had also led to broad fraud in the past. It is not known yet whether Sadr will accept a return to the manual counting system.

In addition to all of the above-mentioned issues, early elections need a special budget and logistics preparedness, which requires legislation and time. The last election, which was an early election as well, needed about 15 months of preparation, organization and execution. In the same context, disagreement over whether this government organizes early elections or a newly formed government does is another source of dispute between the two sides. Some Coordination Framework leaders say that this government is a caretaker government and is not qualified to organize early elections; some of them also consider the current government to be involved in fraud that favored Sadr in the 2021 elections.

This is while the 2021 elections received broad international and regional approval in addition to the Iraqi Federal Court approving the results.

All of this suggests that the current political crisis is likely to continue, with no light yet at the end of the tunnel.

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