Two days after Iraq’s legislative elections, pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim parties and armed groups on Tuesday denounced the first poll results as “manipulation” and “scam.”
Sunday’s election, the fifth in the war-marked country since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, was marked by a record 41 percent turnout.
Parties representing Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority have dominated since the aftermath of the invasion, but early voting results on Sunday deepened the rift between powerful factions within that camp.
According to the preliminary results of the electoral commission, the biggest winner was the movement of the Shiite cleric and political dissident Moqtada Sadr, which increased its lead to 73 of the 329 seats in the assembly.
This increases Sadr’s influence in choosing Iraq’s next prime minister and cabinet. Sadr, a former leader of a militia that fought against US troops, recently adopted a more nationalistic and anti-Iranian rhetoric.
The losses were recorded by pro-Iranian Shiite parties linked to armed groups that make up the paramilitary network known as Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces.
Iraq’s election increases the influence of the Sadr bloc, but no party wins a majority
The Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, suffered a sharp drop from 48 to just a dozen seats, according to observers and results compiled by AFP.
“We will appeal against the results and reject them,” said a joint statement by several of the Shiite parties, including the Fatah Alliance.
“We will take all available measures to prevent vote manipulation,” the statement added, also signed by the party of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who served from 2014 to 2018.
A senior alliance official, Ahmed Assadi, later asked the electoral commission to “present all the evidence showing that the votes were not obstructed.”
‘Scam and scam’
US State Department spokesman Ned Price called for a government “that can work to address Iraq’s governance, security and economic challenges.”
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said that any claim of wrongdoing must be addressed “quickly through available procedures.”
“It is important that all actors accept the results,” Borrell said in a statement.
One of Hashed’s most powerful factions, the Hezbollah Brigades, rejected the election as “the greatest swindle and con the Iraqi people have been subjected to in modern history.”
“The Hashed al-Shaabi brothers are the main targets,” accused their spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari.
The Hashed was formed in 2014 and went on to play a major role in the defeat of the extremist Sunni Islamic State group, which had expanded its self-proclaimed “caliphate” centered on Syria and seized a third of Iraq.
Since then, Hashed has been integrated into Iraq’s state security apparatus, and many lawmakers linked to it were elected to parliament in 2018.
‘Clear political signal’
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi brought forward the 2022 vote to quell a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, ruined public services and Iranian influence in politics.
Iraq is a major oil producer, but nearly a third of its nearly 40 million people live in poverty, according to UN figures, and the Covid-19 pandemic only deepened a long-lasting economic crisis.
The protest movement ended after hundreds of protesters were killed. Since then, more activists have been the target of bloodshed and kidnappings that the movement attributes to pro-Iran armed groups.
Prime Minister Kadhemi’s political future is now uncertain, with few observers willing to predict who will emerge as leader after the usual factional haggling that follows the Iraqi elections.
Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s pro-Iranian Rule of Law Alliance, who served from 2006 to 2014, may boast about 30 seats.
The Taqadom party of influential parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi, a Sunni, claimed to have won some 40 seats.
In the Shiite south, Imtidad, a newly created party representing the protest movement, won nine seats, according to a preliminary count by AFP.
The EU observer mission said it viewed the low voter turnout as a “clear political signal”, hoping it would be “heard by the political elite.”