Iraqi election results put pro-Iranian parties in the hot seat
After the preliminary results of the Iraqi Election Commission were made public on October 12, parties linked to Iran immediately denounced the result as a “scam.” The political bloc affiliated with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP), known as the Fatah Alliance, witnessed its seats of parliament go from forty-eight to a dozen at best. The results predict that the biggest winner will be Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, whose initial thirty-four seats have increased to seventy-three. With a participation rate at the lowest record of 41 percent, the Iraqi people have expressed their overwhelming dissatisfaction with the country’s governance and Iran’s political influence in the country. Although pro-Iranian parties appear to be on the losing side in this election, they are likely to pressure other Shiite blocs to gain enough support to form a coalition. A Sadrist government could be the club needed to ultimately thwart Tehran’s dishonest influence in Iraq.
Previously the second largest parliamentary bloc, the Fatah Alliance once had immense popularity and influence within the Iraqi government. Iranian-linked Shiite militias, collectively known as PMF, were initially created in 2014 to help Iraq fight the Islamic State (ISIS). At first, these militias played a pivotal role in defeating ISIS militants. However, Iran quickly seized the opportunity to transform the PMF into a tool for projecting Iranian influence on the economic, political and societal spheres of Iraq.
Yet support for the PMF and pro-Iran movements has waned as Iran contributes to the corruption, economic collapse and unrest plaguing Iraq. Iraqi grievances resulted in the Manifestations of the “autumn revolution” of 2019 when frustrated citizens demonstrated against Iran’s interference across the country. In fact, the low turnout in the October elections is partly linked to the Iraqi people’s mistrust of their government, which they perceive to be tainted with Iranian influence.
The 2019 protests culminated with the election of interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, PMF critic and friend of the United States. Kadhimi has taken unprecedented steps to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, including the Stop prominent members of the militia and its commitment punish those responsible for attacks on American assets. Although Iran’s popularity and outreach was limited under Kadhimi, the power of the PMF still threatens Iraq’s sovereignty and its ability to work with strategic allies. The Fatah Alliance, which is made up of these militias, will therefore do everything to prevent the anti-Iranian Sadrist movement from seizing the Iraqi government.
After the publication of the election results, the Fatah Alliance launched a campaign to smear the electoral process and the Sadrist movement as a whole. Hadi al-Amiri, the pro-Iran commander of the Badr Organization and Fatah, claims the preliminary result was “fabricated”, adding that “[Fatah] will not accept these fabricated results no matter what the cost. In response to the PMF’s uproar and the subtle call to arms, Sadr declared that weapons “should only be controlled by the state, and the use of weapons should be prohibited outside this framework, even if used by those who claim to be the resistance.”
In this statement, Sadr refers to a major point of contention regarding the PMF and its role within the Iraqi security forces. Since the PMF was formally institutionalized into the Iraqi security apparatus in 2018, these Iranian-linked militias have used Iraqi weapons and resources to conduct operations to advance Iranian interests under the guise of “resistance.” “. Their rogue activities have constantly compromised Iraq’s sovereignty and threatens civilian lives. It is not excluded that Sadr may work to reverse the inclusion of PMFs in the Iraqi security forces, and his remarks threaten just that.
Without its proxies, Tehran’s ability to project its power abroad is almost non-existent. Given that Iraqi support for the PMF has already declined significantly in recent years, the preliminary election results do not bode well for Iran’s future in the country. Over the next few months, Fatah will likely work tirelessly to undermine the election results and secure its position in coalition negotiations. Ultimately, this election will have a significant impact on Iraq’s relations with its neighbors and the United States for years to come.
Maya Carlin is an analyst at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC and former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya.