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Fifth parliamentary election since 2003 invasion demonstrates another US failure in Iraq

Oct 13,2021 - Last updated at Oct 13,2021

The fifth parliamentary election since the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 demonstrated once again that the US failed politically as well as militarily during its stewardship of that country. Voter turn-out was 41 per cent, the lowest ever. Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad told Al Jazeera, “There’s… general apathy. People just don’t believe that elections matter” since conditions have not improved during the three years since the last election.

By contrast, the official turnout figures were 58 per cent for the January 2005 election for a transitional national assembly and an impressive 79.6 per cent for the December 2005 poll for a permanent legislature.  Turnout fell to 62.4 in the 2010 election, 62 per cent in 2014 and plunged to 44.5 per cent in 2018.

All too clearly, Iraqis have lost faith voting as the means to secure decent governance, security, electricity, water, healthcare, education and jobs. Poorer Iraqis heeded calls from religious leaders and mosque preachers to cast their ballots but more affluent and young voters abstained, arguing that voting made no difference to their lives. One of the US justifications for its second war on Iraq was that ousting Saddam Hussein and installing a democratic government in Iraq would promote democracy in other countries in this region.

At a 2003 Veterans Day address, President George W. Bush stated, "Our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear... Our men and women are fighting to secure the freedom of more than 50 million people who recently lived under two of the cruellest dictatorships on earth. Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region." The US has failed miserably in both countries. Iraq teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state rather than a stable democracy and the democracy-rejecting Taliban is back in Aghanistan.

The Iraqi case is particularly egregious. Washington began by repatriating figures from the opposition to Saddam Hussein and forming a "Governing Council" by allocating representation on the basis of sect (Sunni/Shia) and ethnicity (Arab-Kurd).  This approach was modelled on the traditional divide-and-rule strategy used by colonial powers to hang onto conquests which is precisely what the politicians and generals in Washington intended to do. Gen.Jan Gardner, who was in charge of planning and implementing post-war reconstruction in Iraq, revealed that the US wanted military basing rights which would extend for decades [and] would give the US "a great presence in the Middle East".

Gardner's vision proved to be a mirage. US forces were compelled to withdraw in 2011 but the air force and limited ground forces returned to reinforce the overstretched, poorly trained and ill maintained Iraqi army in 2014 in the campaign against Daesh which had seized control of 40 per cent of Iraq. Residual 2,500 combat troops are expected to pull out at the end of this year.

Some returnees were leftists, and ex-Baathists, but the most influential were from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shia movement established by Iran in 1982 during the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran. SCIRI also formed a military wing, the Badr Brigades, which fought on Iran's side in that gruelling, destructive and deadly conflict. The Badr Brigades morphed into the Iran-affiliated Badr Corps and the Badr Organisation under Hadi Al Amiri. Its militia fought with other Shia formations in the US-led campaign to oust Daesh from Iraq.

“Pro-Iranian SCIRI, Shia affiliates and Sunni and Kurdish allies have dominated the Iraqi political scene since the US occupation. Instead of providing democratic means for Iraqis to remove this clique of self-seeking politicians and replace them with reformists, Iraq's elections have perpetuated the grip of figures empowered by Washington and endorsed by Tehran. This has led to rampant clientism, corruption, instability, abuse of power and the rise of Daesh. And, turned Iraqis against democracy."

Until his Fatah alliance of militias lost seats in Sunday's election, Amiri was the second most powerful man in Iraq after nationalist cleric Muqtada Sadr who won the most seats. It is significant that he is not a returnee dependent on Tehran but an independent who remained at home during Saddam Hussein's reign.  While Amiri seeks to end US influence in Iraq, Sadr says he wants both Iran and the US to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Stasis has produced revolt. On October 1st, 2019, tens of thousands of Iraqis poured into the streets and squares of Bagdad and Iraq's southern Shia cities and towns to protest mismanagement and graft,  and demand an end to the sectarian system of governance.

Determined to loosen the hold and depredations of the pro-Iranian militias, Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi met the protesters' demand for an early election under a new law which divided Iraq into 83 constituencies rather than 18 and, in theory, prepared the way for activist candidates and genuine independents to stand for the 329 seats. Unfortunately, October movement activists were divided between those who stood and those who boycotted, arguing that participation would legitimise an election, the outcome of which would be determined by money and guns, bribes and threats.

While polling was generally peaceful on polling day, the campaign was marred by intimidation, threats and killings of activists and independents, allegedly ordered by militia chiefs deter-mined to hang onto power. Furthermore, many of the 780 "independents" among the 3,320 candidates were affiliated with the political blocs and parties the protesters seek to oust.

It was hoped this election would put Iraq on a road to recovery from the 18 years of the mismanagement and corruption of the ethno-sectarian regime installed by the US. This seems to have been a forlorn hope. Although Sadr's populist party won most seats and, under Iraqi law, is entitled to name the next prime minister, he is far short of a majority and will have to negotiate with other entrenched blocs and parties to secure backing for a new government.

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