Sulaimaniyah City, Iraq – Iraqi leaders have pushed to postpone parliamentary elections, fearing public discontent could lead to their removal from power, a government-linked analyst said.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Salih and Speaker of Parliament Mohammad al-Halbusi called for a subsequent vote on concerns over their re-election prospects and sought to buy time, said Mohammad Bakhtiar, a political analyst. Kurdish who meets regularly with Iraqi decision-makers.
“At least two of the three Iraqi leaders who were in favor of early elections have realized that their chances of being re-elected are minimal,” Bakhtiar said.
In an attempt to delay the elections, the three Iraqi leaders met on January 12 and later with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and officials of the electoral commission, he said. at Al Jazeera.
Following a request from Iraq’s High Independent Electoral Commission (IHEC), the government last week announced the postponement of elections in the country from June 6 to October 10.
Bakhtiar said the vote was unlikely to take place in October and suggested May 2022 was more likely.
But a source close to the Iraqi government said the October election date would stand. “There is no formal intention to postpone the October elections because such a step is very difficult legally and politically,” he told Al Jazeera.
But he added: “If Iraq sees very tense situations – for example, demonstrators take to the streets, assassinations resume or military escalations occur in Iraq – then holding elections would be impossible.”
The offices of the three Iraqi leaders have been contacted for comment, but no response has been received at the time of publication.
Al-Kadhimi had promised to hold early elections to appease protesters demanding an overhaul of the country’s political system after he took office in May last year.
The postponement of the elections received a cold response from many Iraqis demanding political change. Mass protests began in October 2019 with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets across the oil-rich country to protest the lack of economic opportunity, rampant corruption and foreign interference.
“Nothing good has come from the three Iraqi leaders. They made several brilliant promises to us but kept nothing, ”Ahmed Talan, a 24-year-old Kurdish co-owner of a mini-market in Sulaimaniyah, told Al Jazeera.
“We have many miseries. I find it difficult to earn my daily bread. I cannot get married, not have a good education – even though I am working full time. “
Bakhtyar Mahmud, a former editor of the Iraqi presidency website, said the ruling elites only want to preserve themselves.
“The objective of the political parties in power in Iraq in general, of the three Iraqi presidencies in particular, is to prolong their grip of power and to protect their personal interests behind their positions,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Iraqi leadership is weak and has nothing new to do for the Iraqis, as the habit of corruption and authoritarianism increases. They are extending the time for their own interests because they are failures and have lost any chance of being re-elected.
A young Sunni-Arab truck driver from Baghdad now living in Sulaimaniyah said that as a college graduate he had been looking for a job in his field of study for eight years.
“Political parties control all aspects of life in Iraq and foreign interference is a reality in this country,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Diliman Abdulkader, co-founder and director of American Friends of Kurdistan, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing confrontation between Iran and the United States is also a factor of resentment among Iraqis.
“The United States and Iran continue to fight for their influence in the Iraqi political sphere, as in previous elections. As the United States’ strength in Iraq dwindles, the United States must ensure that its diplomatic relations are strong enough to counter Iran, ”Abdulkader said.
“However, both camps are weaker this time around. Young Iraqis demand that they control their own country away from any foreign intervention. If their demands are not met, we may see more demonstrations in the coming months. We may also see a slight easing of tensions between the United States and Iran in Iraq as the two sides renegotiate the [Iran] nuclear deal. “
An upsurge in violence has also hit Iraq in recent weeks, underlined by last week’s double suicide bombing in a bustling market in the Iraqi capital that killed at least 32 people and injured dozens.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Supreme Court – tasked with ratifying the final election results – currently cannot fulfill its obligations as two of its nine members died without being replaced, meaning that the October elections may not even be possible.
Following the collapse of the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein during the US invasion of 2003, power has traditionally been shared among Iraq’s three largest ethnic and sectarian voters.
As a result, the post of prime minister, the most powerful, was occupied by a Shiite Arab, the speaker of parliament by a Sunni Arab and the president – a largely ceremonial position – by a Kurd.
Political consensus is usually achieved with the sponsorship of Washington and Tehran in an attempt to maintain their balance of power and influence in Iraq.
The two main ruling Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan region – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) – signed a strategic agreement in 2005 to share power in the region and in Iraq.
The Iraqi presidency is held by the PUK while the PDK assumes the presidency of the regional government of Kurdistan. But the two sides abandoned the deal in 2018 when the PDK appointed Fouad Hussein to compete with Salih. Hussein later became Iraq’s foreign minister.
“Preserving sovereign positions in the Iraqi state … is left to how the Kurds can this time make deals with Arab political parties,” Sheikh Dler, Kurdish member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, told Al Jazeera Rezan .
“The KDP and PUK could have separate presidential candidates, as happened in 2018.
Salih was the PUK’s second deputy general secretary, but broke with his party in September 2017 and formed the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ). Salih’s new party won just two seats in the Iraqi parliament after the general elections in May 2018 which witnessed large-scale electoral fraud. Salih later dissolved his party and returned to the ranks of the PUK and later became President of Iraq.
Two advisers to the Iraqi president, who also asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera that Salih has yet to decide to run for a second term.
“The chances of winning a second term by Salih are very difficult because his political party [PUK] no longer interested in the ceremonial post. The PUK would prefer to swap roles with KDP in Baghdad and Erbil, ”Bakhtiar said.
“The PUK wants to lead the presidency of the Kurdistan region and several ministerial portfolios, including the Iraqi foreign ministry, in exchange for handing over the post of Iraqi president to the KDP. Salih has no support within the PUK, the PDK and most of the Shiite blocs loyal to Iran. It only has the support of Muqtada al-Sadr and a few Sunni Arab blocs.
He added that the PDK is discussing the PUK’s suggestion, but if it is refused, the PUK will try to negotiate with Sunni-Arab politicians to receive the role of speaker of the Iraqi parliament in exchange for the presidency.
Sarkawt Shams, a Kurdish deputy in the Iraqi Parliament of the Future Bloc, predicted that the Kurds will retain the presidency in the next elections if “a suitable candidate occupies it”.
According to the source, the PUK will try to negotiate with Sunni-Arab politicians to become the speaker of the Iraqi parliament in exchange for the presidency.
Will Salih separate from the PUK again?
Recently, 15 Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament from different political parties formed the Kurdistan Hope Alliance (KAH). Some speculated on social media that Salih was behind the decision to get votes for a second term, but Shams and another Kurdish MP close to Salih rejected that.
“First of all, the Kurdistan Hope Alliance is just a parliamentary alliance, we have not decided to participate in the next elections as an alliance – but it is possible,” Shams said.
Rebwar Mahmud, an independent lawmaker from the alliance, told Al Jazeera: “There is no political agenda by anyone behind the creation of the KAH.
The Iraqi Shiite population and Iran are likely to flee Salih due to his meeting and handshake with outgoing US President Donald Trump in Switzerland, 18 days after the assassination of Deputy Commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and Iranian. Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds force, during a US drone strike on their convoy near Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Al Jazeera contacted the official of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Divan Fawzi Hariri, and PUK spokesman Amin Baba Sheikh, but both were not available for comment.