Iraqis Vote in First Post-IS Election

Iraqis Vote in First Post-IS Election
Iraqis Vote in First Post-IS Election

For the first time since driving out the self-styled Islamic State terror group, Iraqis go to the polls on Saturday in an election that will shape attempts to heal the country’s deep divisions and economic hardships.

Iraq’s three main ethnic and religious groups, the majority Shia Arabs and the minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds, have been at loggerheads for decades and the rifts are as apparent as ever 15 years after the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported.

Whoever wins the May 12 election will face the challenge of rebuilding Iraq after four years of war with IS, jump-starting a flagging economy, balancing the interests of powerful foreign patrons and maintaining the country’s fragile unity in the face of separatist tensions.

“We want security. We have killings, theft, kidnappings. We never had this before. In the past 15 years the people have been destroyed,” said 29-year-old Khalid Radi, a laborer in Baghdad.

Incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is considered by analysts to be marginally ahead but victory is far from certain.

  Three-Way Race

Abadi has faced criticism about persistent government corruption, tough economic conditions and the austerity measures his cabinet introduced after the slide in global oil prices and to help pay for the fight against IS.

He also cannot rely solely on votes from his community as the majority Shia voter base is unusually split this year. Instead, he is looking to draw upon support from other groups.

Many, but not all, Sunnis see Abadi as a more appealing alternative to his two main Shia rivals and credit him with liberating their areas from terrorists.

There’s bad blood between Abadi and the Kurds, however, after Baghdad imposed sanctions on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region following its failed independence bid last year. Even if Abadi’s Victory Alliance list wins the most seats he still has to navigate the long-winded and complicated backroom negotiations required to form a coalition government.

His two main challengers are his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki and militia commander Hadi al-Amiri.

Both have a more passionate voter base than Abadi, who is mostly appealing to more pragmatic voters who see him as having better relations with the outside world who can help the country avoid further bloodshed and attract investment.

Like Abadi, Amiri is running on a platform highlighting the victory against IS, though the militia leader’s narrative is more compelling as he was a frontline commander and is viewed as war hero by many.

Maliki, who was sidelined after eight years in office in 2014 after losing a third of the country to IS, is looking to make a political comeback.

  Coalition Horse-Trading

Ever since Saddam fell in 2003, ending decades of dominance by the Sunni minority, senior government positions have been unofficially split between the country’s main groups.

The post of prime minister has been reserved for a Shia, the speaker for a Sunni, and the ceremonial presidency has gone to a Kurds—with all three being chosen by parliament.

More than 7,000 candidates in 18 provinces, or governorates, are running this year for 329 parliamentary seats.

The Iraqi constitution sets a 90-day deadline for forming a government after the election results are formally announced and the horse-trading can be protracted.

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