Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, October 15, 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 infighting—and the belief that holding political may mean the difference between life and death for the various political communities—has prevented agreement to date on a new government that was to be selected following the March 7, 2010, national elections for the Council of Representatives (COR, parliament). A new government was expected immediately after the end of the Ramadan period on September 11, but deadlock continued. As of October 4, 2010, after receiving the backing of the faction of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may be close to securing the COR votes for another term as Prime Minister.

Contributing to the difficulty in reaching agreement has been the close election results and distribution of seats in the COR. With the results certified, the cross-sectarian but Sunnisupported “Iraqiyya” slate of former Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi unexpectedly gained a plurality of 91 of the 325 COR seats up for election. Maliki’s State of Law slate won 89, and a rival Shiite coalition was third with 70, of which about 40 seats are held by those supporting Moqtada Al Sadr. The main Kurdish parties, again allied, won 43 seats, with another 14 seats held by other Kurdish factions. On the basis of his first place showing, Allawi had demanded to be given the first opportunity to put together a majority coalition and form a government. Even as Al Sadr and some other Shiites have now dropped their opposition to Maliki, Allawi continues to oppose Maliki’s continuation as Prime Minister and is attempting to form a rival grouping along with the Kurds and Shiite figures, such as Adel Abdul Mahdi, who oppose Maliki.

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. Iran, which exercises major influence over the Shiite factions in Iraq, has purportedly been working to ensure that pro-Iranian Shiites lead the next government, although it was not necessarily insisting that Maliki continue. U.S. officials are anticipating that a new government could 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. U.S. officials and Iraqi citizens also hope that the new government can resolve the increasingly contentious shortages of electricity that have plagued Iraqi cities during 2010 and complicated citizen efforts to cope with the summer heat.

The long political vacuum, coupled with the drawdown of U.S. forces to 50,000 and the formal end of the U.S. combat mission on August 31, 2010, has contributed to major high profile attacks in Iraq and a sense of uncertainty and disillusionment on the part of the Iraqi public. Although it did not delay the ending of the U.S. combat mission, the continuing violence has caused some experts to question whether stability will continue after all U.S. forces are to depart at the end of 2011. Some believe that the reduction in U.S. leverage and influence in Iraq will cause the rifts among major ethnic and sectarian communities to widen to the point where Iraq could still become a “failed state” after 2011, unless some U.S. troops remain after that time. See CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security, by Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: October 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

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.