Who will be the winner in Iraq?

Nermeen Al-Mufti , Saturday 29 Sep 2018

The election of Mohamed Al-Halbousi as the new speaker of the Iraqi parliament marks the start of a process designed to lead to a new government in Iraq

New Iraqi parliament
Iraqi lawmakers are seen during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq September 3, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Last week, Sunni lawmaker Mohamed Al-Halbousi, 37, was elected as speaker of the Iraqi parliament. Al-Halbousi, who became the youngest speaker in Iraqi history, defeated former defence minister Khaled Al-Obeidi for the post, winning the position with 169 votes from 329 MPs.

Iraq’s parliament had been due to elect a speaker and two deputies (a Shia and a Kurd) during its first meeting on 3 October. Al-Halbousi’s election marks the start of a 90-day process outlined in the constitution that is designed eventually to lead to a new government.

Hours after the speaker was elected, social media and other reports said that Iran had scored a goal against the US in Iraq in the election.

Falah Al-Fadhli, a political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “we are seeing Al-Halbousi backed by Iran and Al-Obeidi backed by the States in the election. This proxy Iran-US war in Iraq should be stopped, and when people become aware of it, it will be halted,” he said.

The struggle for influence in Iraq between the US and Iran forced caretaker Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to announce that he would not “cling to power” and demand a second term.

Moreover, the country’s highest Shia religious authority (the marja) also called for a “new face” as the incoming prime minister.

However, “Al-Abadi did not announce that either his bloc or himself would not organise his nomination,” Hussein Mohamed, a professor of political science, said.

He added that the “Nouri Al-Maliki’s [a former Iraqi prime minister] wing and the Al-Abadi wing of the Shia Daawa Party have decided to solve the problems between them, so that if Al-Abadi gets a majority in the legislature he will form a new cabinet.”

Al-Abadi is continuing negotiations to form the largest bloc in parliament, and his Al-Nasr (Victory) List has announced that Al-Abadi is its only nominee for the next prime minister.

Yet, the problem is not only who is going to be the next prime minister, but also who will be the next president of Iraq.

“While the Sunnis seemed to solve their problems by nominating only two individuals for the post of speaker, the Shias and Kurds still have conflicts, Shias with Shias and Kurds with Kurds,” said one Iraqi Kurdish politician speaking on condition of anonymity.

He added that the “KDP of Mesut Barzani insists that the post of president should belong to Kurds not to the PUK of the late Jalal Talabani whose party has controlled the post since 2006.” The KDP and PUK are both Iraqi Kurdish parties, and Talabani was a former president of Iraq.

Some 20 individuals have nominated themselves through parliament for the post, among them former law-maker Sarwa Abdel-Wahed who became the first Iraqi woman to nominate herself to be president of Iraq.

“If the leading blocs in parliament want to honour their promise not to vote for any Kurdish nominee who was for the independence referendum or participated in it, Abdel-Wahed would be the only Kurdish nominee suitable,” commented observers on Iraqi social media.

An independence referendum on the secession of Iraqi Kurdistan from the rest of the country was organised in late 2017.

Abdel-Wahed told the Weekly that the role of the constitution was to protect the Iraqis and their rights. Many female activists have announced their happiness at her nomination through the hashtag #SarwaPresident and have said that though Iraq has had many male presidents, these have achieved nothing but wars and chaos.

A female president would be a sign of a new Iraq, they said.

Al-Masalla, a leading online daily, published a piece recently saying that it had monitored efforts to solve the conflict over the nomination for president between the two major Kurdish parties, adding that Iran was pushing for Barham Saleh of the PUK, the Kurdish party that is closest to Iran.

According to the paper, the PUK would agree on the next governor of the city of Kirkuk coming from the KDP in exchange, even though this party did not participate in the last general elections in the city.

Such talk about Kirkuk makes the Turkmens and Arabs living in the area angry, since both demand that power in Kirkuk should be shared equally.

Kirkuk was controlled by the Kurds from April 2003 to October 2017, when Al-Abadi moved federal forces into Kirkuk and other areas between Baghdad and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many political analysts fear that the proxy war between Iran and the US will continue in Iraq, saying that the US will continue to do its best to reduce the Iranian role, while the Iranians will work hard to do the opposite.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Who will be the winner in Iraq? 

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