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Wednesday, July 7, 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 involving the questionable use of key levers of power and legal institutions. 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.

With the results of the March 7, 2010, election certified, the cross-sectarian but Sunni-supported "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 won 89, and a rival Shiite coalition was third with 70. The main Kurdish parties, again allied, won 43. Allawi's slate had been expected to receive the first opportunity to put together a majority coalition to form a government. Maliki and the other main Shiite coalition, opposing what they claim is the mostly Sunni Arab base of the Allawi slate, have forged a tenuous alliance to form the next government. However, differences over who this Shiite bloc would select as prime minister could cause it to fragment, leaving the issue of who might emerge as prime minister still open. Jalal Talabani appears likely to retain the post of president, although this, too, is not certain. No posts were agreed upon when the COR convened for the first time post-election (June 14, 2010).

Allawi, who is viewed as even-handed and not amenable to Iranian influence, was 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 led by Allawi. The domestic tensions over the election result have not substantially altered the Obama Administration's planned reduction of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. The current U.S. troop level is about 83,000, and a reduction to 50,000 is to be completed by September 1, 2010. The outgoing top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, says that U.S. drawdown plans would change substantially only 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 a new government might be able to overcome the roadblocks 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: July 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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