Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, April 1, 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 continues, sometimes using key levers of power and undemocratic means. This was in evidence in the successful efforts by Shiite Arab political leaders to disqualify some prominent Sunni Arab candidates in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the next Council of Representatives (COR, parliament), which will form the next government. Election-related violence occurred before and during the election, although not at levels of earlier years or at a level to significantly affect voting, except perhaps for Baghdad city. 

With all votes counted, although not certified, the cross-sectarian "Iraqiyya" slate of former Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi unexpectedly has gained a plurality of 91 of the 325 COR seats up for election. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's slate came in a close second, with two fewer seats, and a rival Shiite coalition was a distant third with 70. The main Kurdish parties, again allied, won 43. Allawi's slate had been expected to get the first opportunity to put together a majority coalition to form a government. However, Maliki and other Shiite parties—opposing what they claim is the mostly Sunni Arab base of the Allawi slate—are in extensive discussions to put together a coalition that would be able to determine the next government. 

Adding to the tensions is the perception that Maliki has become increasingly authoritarian over the past three years, and might use all available levers of power to keep himself or his faction at the helm of the next government. Some fear that he and his allies will use legal and constitutional processes, personal and political ties to key judicial bodies, arrests, and intimidation through use of the Iraqi Security Forces to deny Allawi a chance to emerge as Prime Minister. 

Allawi, who is viewed as even-handed and not amenable to Iranian influence, is considered to be favored by the Obama Administration. However, many expect the Administration will not or cannot intervene decisively in the Iraqi effort to construct a new government. Obama Administration officials have said that the election was sufficiently successful—and the security situation remains sufficiently stable—that the planned reduction of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 50,000 U.S. forces by August 2010 will proceed as planned. The current level is just below 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. However, many believe that U.S. plans might change if the post-election political process turns highly violent—a development that is not widely expected. 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. U.S. officials are hoping that not only will a new government be assembled, but that it will overcome the long-standing differences that have thus far prevented passage of key outstanding legislation considered crucial to political comity going forward, such as national hydrocarbon laws. See CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security, by Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: March 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number:RS21968
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail or call us at 301-253-0881.