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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Iraq: Politics, Elections, and Benchmarks

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq's political system, the result of a U.S.-supported election process, has been increasingly characterized by peaceful competition, as well as by attempts to form cross-sectarian alliances. However, ethnic and factional infighting continue, as evidenced by the successful efforts by Shiite Arab political leaders to disqualify some prominent Sunni Arab candidates in the March 7, 2010, national elections. Election-related violence has occurred, although not at levels of earlier years. Some believe that, in light of the disqualifications, sectarian violence will flare anew, after the elections, and may increase further as the U.S. military presence recedes in 2010 and 2011. 

Adding to the tensions is the perception among many Iraqi politicians that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, strengthened politically by the January 31, 2009, provincial elections, is increasingly authoritarian. This is in part to demonstrate that he is committed to law and order, but perhaps also to win Shiite Muslim votes by portraying himself as intent on preventing any possible return of the Baath Party to power in Iraq. He has tried, with only mixed enthusiasm and success, to form cross-sectarian alliances with a range of Sunni and Kurdish factions. However, the slates that oppose him in the election are somewhat more broad ethnically and politically than is his, and Maliki is not assured of remaining Prime Minister when a new government is formed. 

The infighting among the major communities delayed the National Assembly's passage of the election law needed to hold the elections. An initial version of the election law was passed by the Council of Representatives (COR, parliament) on November 8, 2009, but was vetoed by one of Iraq's deputy presidents, Tariq al Hashimi, because of what he considered inadequate guarantees of representation for Sunni Iraqis. After continued disputes, threatened election boycotts, and adoption of another draft law that attracted another veto threat, all major factions adopted a draft—similar to the first version—on December 6, 2009. The next Assembly will have 325 seats, compared to 275 seats in the current Assembly. The election date of March 7, 2010, is well beyond the January 31, 2010, date that was originally targeted. This same difficulty of achieving consensus has delayed key outstanding legislation considered crucial to political comity going forward, such as national hydrocarbon laws, and may account for an apparent increase in violence in Iraq as campaigning begins (February 12). 

To date, the election infighting and violence—evidenced most notably by major bombings in Baghdad—have not jeopardized the Obama Administration's announced reduction of the U.S. troop presence to about 50,000 U.S. forces by August 2010. Under the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement that took effect January 1, 2009, and which President Obama has said would be followed, all U.S. forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Senior U.S. military leaders continue to say that the U.S. draw-down plans are "on track." However, U.S. plans could be upset if the political infighting causes a major increase in violence or if the post-election political process of choosing the executive branch is held up for several months.

See CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security, by Kenneth Katzman. 


Date of Report: March 3, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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