Country Reports

Iraq at a Crossroads: Stabilization or Further Fragmentation?

by Nils Wörmer, Hannes Pichler


The upcoming elections on May 12, 2018 mark the first national elections in Iraq after the military victory over the Islamic State (ISIL). These elections will determine whether Iraq will be able to stabilize itself politically, to establish a nation-wide security regime and to start an urgent reform process after years of civil war and the fight against ISIL.

Outlook and German Interests

Due to the fragmentation of Iraq’s political landscape, it is unlikely that any one list will be able to reach the necessary majority to build a government. As in the past, and af-ter the 2018 elections, the strongest lists will most likely merge to form a coalition. The results of the Shiite lists in Baghdad and the nine Shiite provinces in the south of the country will be decisive for the balance of power within the next gov-ernment. Out of the 329 seats in parliament, 190 could go to Shiite delegates. Surveys and expert analyses give current Prime Minister Abadi good chances at re-election. In particular, his Victory Alliance and his natural partners in the Shiite camp, such as the list of Muqtada Al-Sadr, would have to do well and reach more than 100 of the 190 or so Shiite parliamentary seats. In addition, there are no larger lists that would categorically exclude a coalition with Abadi. Abadi’s alliance with Ameri, chairman of the Conquest Alliance (Al-Hashd ash-Shaabi), failed in January 2018 after a few hours, causing disappointment in the Abadi camp. However, it cannot be ruled out that Abadi will return to Ameri after the elections to ensure his own power. The result is also eagerly awaited by Maliki, Abadi's intra-party competitor. Should his State of Law Coalition be strong, it could lead to a tough power struggle between Abadi and Maliki, which could lead to a compromise solution in the office of Prime Minister and, thus, to a replacement of Abadi. In this context, it will be significant how strongly Sunnis will speak out for Sunni candidates on Shiite lists, thereby influencing the balance of power in the Shiite party camp.

It is in the interest of the young Iraqi democracy, and good for the country's stabilization and reconstruction efforts, if the level of violence in the parliamentary elections remains low and the allegations of electoral fraud remain in check. Essentially, this means that demonstrations are peaceful, political killings are avoided, and ISIL does not carry out attacks, particularly at polling stations. It cannot be ruled out, however, that the possible exit by the US from the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA), which President Trump will decide before the Iraqi elections, could have a negative impact on the security situation in Iraq.

With the introduction of the electronic voting system, the voting standards have been significantly improved; under the new conditions, subsequent manipulation of the election results is deemed unlikely. However, it cannot be ruled out that bribery, extortion or intimidation will occur in the run-up to the elections or in the polling booths, distorting the election result. In the run-up to the elections, it became known that voters' voices were bought in different provinces, or that secure jobs were promised to voters. This applies to Baghdad and the southern parts of the country in particular such as Basrah, which will be decisive for the balance of power in the Shiite camp. It is also possible that armed forces, such as Shiite militiamen, will create a climate of fear in or around the polling stations, thereby influencing the outcome of the election.

Iraq is a vital partner of Germany in the Middle East. This is especially true with regard to stabilization efforts in the region and the fight against international terrorism. For this reason, it is in the German interest that the elections are non-violent and fair and that a swift, independent government is formed. This, among others, is a prerequisite for urgently-needed economic and political reforms to be implemented and for the reconstruction and reintegration of refugees to be promoted. In addition, the restructuring of the Iraqi security sector is required under a stable, new Iraqi government. In cooperation with the government of Haider Al-Abadi, the German government decided in March 2018 to redirect the German Armed Forces mission in Iraq in order to assist this reform process and to train Iraqi security forces in Central Iraq. Until recently, German security policy and civic engagement had focused primarily on the Iraqi-Kurdistan. Now, however, Germany is a close partner of Baghdad in stabilizing the entire country and fighting ISIL and other jihadist terrorist organizations.

Please find the complete version of the report in the attached document.

Elections in Iraq