Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, May 6, 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 seemingly 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 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, the cross-sectarian "Iraqiyya" slate of former Prime Minister Iyad al- Allawi unexpectedly gained a plurality of 91 of the 325 COR seats up for election. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's State of Law 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. To bolster his claim to remain prime minister, Maliki's slate requested, and a court agreed, to a recount of votes in crucial Baghdad province; Maliki hopes the recount will deprive Allawi's bloc of its plurality of seats. Another court's disqualification (on "de-Baathification" grounds) of one winning and 51 losing candidates will require a recalculation of seat allocations, presumably to Maliki's benefit. 

Allawi, who is viewed as even-handed and not amenable to Iranian influence, is considered to be favored by the Obama Administration and by Sunni-dominated regional neighbors such as Saudi Arabia. However, many expect that neither the United States nor these neighbors can or will intervene decisively to shape a new government. The domestic tensions over the election result— although likely to delay the formation of a new government until well into the summer—have not, for now, altered the Obama Administration's planned reduction of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. The current U.S. troop level is about 95,000, and a reduction to 50,000 is planned to be completed by September 1, 2010, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno. Odierno adds that U.S. drawdown plans would change only if the postelection political process turns highly violent—a development that has not happened to date and 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: April 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.