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On the fire that ruined Iraq’s elections

An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station for the Iraqi parliamentary election in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on May 12, 2018 [Feriq Fereç / Anadolu Agency]
An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station for the Iraqi parliamentary election in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on 12 May 2018 [Feriq Fereç/Anadolu Agency]

The fire that broke out in the ballot box storage in Baghdad did not only devour the ballot boxes, but it also undermined the credibility and integrity of the Iraqi elections and the credibility of the ongoing political process in the country. This country is currently on the verge of becoming the “country of one river after the Tigris dries up or is dried up”.

After the end of the voting, the hesitation and delay in announcing the results, followed by the challenging of the electronic vote count, the wars of exchanged accusations, the parliament’s decision regarding recounting the votes, and the Judicial Council’s decision to appoint nine judges to carry out the tasks of the Independent High Electoral Commission, and the deliberate fire, it seems that the electoral/political process is wavering after its integrity, credibility and transparency were killed.

We do not know how the debate on “what to do next” will end, especially with opinions and proposals going in every direction. These directions include accepting the results of the elections as they are and how they were announced, and a wide range of ideas related to completely or partially hand counting the votes in all of Iraq or in the electorally ‘challenged” areas that independent assessments rank as the worst in terms of integrity. This is the situation with voting abroad, private voting, and voting in some Kurdish and mixed areas.

The truth is that we met with three distinguished researchers on the day before the elections and one of them (Dr Basel Hussain) specifically spoke about the electronic counting system. Not about how expensive it is (hinting at the corruption of the purchase process and procurement) but how the machines are not efficient and how easy it is to hack into the system and tamper with the results.

He conducted an investigation into the issue that ended in doubt and questioning the solidity of relying on this voting, counting, and calculation mechanism. Everything that seemed astounding and unbelievable about our dear friend’s words manifested in the ugliest way on the day of the vote and the following days of counting and calculating the results, until today.

In any case, the war of accusations and challenges in Iraq, as well as divisions over the question of what next is not separate in any way from the movement and activity by the country’s components and internal entities, as well as its regional and international supporters regarding Iraq’s direction in the upcoming phase.

Read: Iraq’s stability is a necessity for Iran

In addition to this, it is not separate from the nature and form of the post-elections government and any coalition it will have the opportunity to form and the impact that this combination will have on Iraq’s relations with the rivalling axes and camps in the region. This especially applies to the international pole (Washington and its allies) and the regional pole (Tehran and its allies).

It seems that post-election Iraq is approaching one of three scenarios, each with its pros and cons. Each one of them also reflect the current balance of power in the country and will determine who will prevail and dominate the arena that is open to proxy wars, either Iran and its allies or the US and its friends.

The first scenario is a coalition and government relatively distant from Iran, which means they are relatively close to the US, perhaps to the same extent. A coalition of this sort would include the Sairoon Coalition (Muqtada Al-Sadr) Nasr Al-Iraq (Haider Al-Abadi) and the National Wisdom Movement (Ammar Al-Hikma).

In terms of the Sunnis, it will include the National Bloc and perhaps Al-Qarar coalition, as well as the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Nechirvan Barzani and less prominent entities. This is the biggest coalition and the easiest to achieve. However, its main risk lies in leaving Fatah and subsequently the Popular Mobilisation Forces out the ranks of the government, which may have both political and security consequences.

The second scenario is a coalition and government relatively distant from the US, meaning they are relatively close to Iran, perhaps to the same extent. It would include the State of Law coalition, Fatah, and perhaps the National Wisdom Movement, which is floating between the two sides. It will also include the Kurdish Sulaymaniyah group, led by the National Party, and some of the Sunni parties who have friendly hearts or pockets.

Read: Iraq walks a dangerous tightrope to relieve hydropolitical tension with neighbours

This coalition does not have enough seats to form a government and will be forced to engage in bargains and deals with other Shia, Sunni and Kurdish entities, to secure the necessary quorum.

The third scenario is a politically diverse combination of the 10 major entities (five Shia, three Sunni, and two Kurdish blocs) that theoretically cannot be done in a manner avoiding the disastrous consequences of removing major blocs from the government and keeping them in the ranks of the opposition.

This government will have to go through a dangerous “minefield” which will become more and more dangerous every time the confrontation and polarisation intensifies between Washington and Tehran in the region, and particularly in the Iraqi arena.

The shape and formation of the government has led to a large US and Iranian presence in Iraq, before the elections and especially after it. Brett McGurk took over the taste for the American side, while Qassem Soleimani took over for the Iranian side.

It seems that the difficulties that hindered the formation of the coalition and alliances opened the door to a new kind of battle: the battle of challenging the elections and recalculating the votes. This results in burning the ballot boxes.

The serious and critical investigation into the crime of burning the ballot boxes may ignite other fires in Iraq, while failing to investigate may produce equally disastrous results.

The decision to manually recount the votes will lead to the exposure of major blocs and the discovery of their blatant interference in the election. Every option that may be proposed and discussed may eliminate the last iota of confidence and trust in the political class and political process, as well as the institutions and figures stemming from them.

This article first appeared in Arabic in The New Khalij on 13 June 2018.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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