Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against a draft income tax law near the prime minister’s office in Amman, Jordan, on June 6. (Annie Sakkab/Bloomberg News)

Over the past week, protests and violence proliferated across Iraq’s southern provinces. In unprecedented scenes, buildings of provincial capitals were stormed, and the offices of political parties and militias were attacked and burned down.

These are Iraq’s Shiite heartlands that contributed most of the manpower to the fight against the Islamic State. The political elites who have dominated the post-2003 order have legitimized their rule by claiming to represent and advance the interest of this previously marginalized constituency.

And yet, in recent elections, these provinces recorded some of the lowest turnout. That political disengagement has now transformed into a new and more radical means of contesting political power.…  Seguir leyendo »

In this May 14 photo, supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr carry his image as they celebrate in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

On May 12, Iraq held parliamentary elections in which a coalition of the Islamist Sadrist movement, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) secured more seats than any other alliance. It was a shocking victory that left the party of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — the pre-election favorite — trailing in third place.

The Sadrist-ICP electoral pact seemed to mark a transformation in Iraqi politics as two previously antagonistic groups aligned behind a single political vision. But why do such shifts continue to take analysts by surprise? When dealing with Iraq, a focus on political elites and sectarianism has produced an image of a society incapable of collective action against the political class.…  Seguir leyendo »

A volunteer points out the place where a displaced woman from Sinjar can cast her vote in the parliamentary elections at a polling site in a camp for displaced people outside Irbil, Iraq, on May 12. (Bram Janssen/AP)

On May 12, Iraq held a remarkably successful and violence-free national election. A coalition of Shiite Islamists and communists led by Moqtada al-Sadr, running on a reform agenda, won the largest number of seats in the new parliament. Sitting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s coalition placed third.

While the results have generated considerable optimism, allegations of widespread electoral fraud have also emerged in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. There have been numerous calls to address and investigate these claims, including from the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

In these areas, results favored two long-dominant parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).…  Seguir leyendo »

When International Crisis Group recently asked officials and analysts from Saudi Arabia and Iran to list their key interests in Iraq, we discovered that Riyadh and Tehran may agree on more than either side realized.

As Iraq’s newly-elected parliament negotiates to form a government, Saudi Arabia and Iran should take that list as a starting point to support Baghdad — and advance their interests too.

The United States, which has invested 15 years, hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly 5,000 soldiers’ lives in the name of Iraqi stability, has a vital interest in encouraging this détente so that Iraq does not become a battleground for foreign interests yet again.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqis in Mosul waited to vote on May 12 next to a building in ruins from the battle to oust Islamic State militants from their city. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

On May 12, Iraq held its fourth national elections since 2003. More than 10 million people turned up at polling stations. Men and women alike voted freely — a rarity in the Middle East, and something that Iraqis can be proud of. Despite a lower turnout than was expected, voters leaned toward cross-sectarian lists rather than the ethnic or sect-based groupings that dominated previous elections.

I myself campaigned in all 18 provinces, and our coalition won seats in 14 of those, something no other list was able to achieve. While there are irregularities that need to be addressed by the Independent High Electoral Commission, I have called on all sides to respect the final results and address any complaints through due legal process.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Muqtada al-Sadr mobile phone cover for sale in a Baghdad market. Photo: Getty Images.

Iraqis and outside observers alike are still making sense of the surprise results of last weekend’s elections, the country’s first since the violent rise and fall of the Islamic State. In the biggest shock, the populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political coalition—a nationalist, non-sectarian alliance between his political movement, secular activists and the Iraqi Communist Party, known as Sairoon—won the most seats in parliament. Trailing just a few seats behind were the pre-election favorite, the Nasr Alliance of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the Fateh Alliance led by Hadi al-Ameri, whose list represents a majority of paramilitary groups associated with the mainly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units.…  Seguir leyendo »

Followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr celebrating their success in Iraqi elections in Baghdad.CreditHadi Mizban/Associated Press

Moktada al-Sadr, the maverick Shiite cleric, who contested the Iraqi elections on an inclusive, nonsectarian list with Communists, independents and liberal civil society groups, has emerged as the winner.

Mr. Sadr’s electoral list, “Sairoon” in Arabic, or “On The Move,” garnered the largest number of votes, although 56 percent of Iraq’s voters stayed away from the polling booths. During the campaign, Mr. Sadr promised to fight corruption, work across sectarian lines and bring in technocrats to run the government.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s list didn’t secure the top place in the elections. Baghdad did not vote for Mr. Abadi, but his electoral list gained support in Mosul, the city most devastated by the Islamic State and liberated under his leadership.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi supporters of Sairun list celebrate with Iraqi flags and a picture of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr after results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced, in Najaf, Iraq 15 May, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

At first blush, what do these preliminary results amount to? Any surprises? Any dramatic change in the way Iraq will be governed?

There is less surprise in the victory of a component of the Shiite Islamist political firmament than in the nature of that component: the Sadrists, long demonised in the West and not particularly liked in Tehran. They won in alliance with the Communists, also vilified by the West and Iran alike, but in a much earlier era. But the antipathy of external powers is not all the Sadrists, followers of the populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Communists have in common.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi woman prepares to cast her vote in the country’s parliamentary elections in Baghdad on Saturday. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Preliminary results for Iraq’s recent round of elections are in, and keeping with previous years, there are many surprises. Contradicting most polling data and analysts’ predictions, incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s alliance came in third, after Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party and the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, a paramilitary leader close to Iran.

Dissecting these results, we can see how voters are increasingly disillusioned with Iraq’s dysfunctional politics and the status quo. However, the elections also illuminate the flaws in the electoral system and the unwieldy government formation process. Without significant modifications to these institutions, there is little reason to expect any major changes in the coming period.…  Seguir leyendo »

The third Iraqi elections since the end of the US occupation are scheduled for May 12th. These arrive in a context of slow but progressive recovery of Iraq and its institutions. The Islamic State (IS) military defeat in December 2017 and the relatively non-violent and effective response of the federal authorities to the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017 are remarkable achievements for the Iraqi state and its prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. Nonetheless, analysts and policymakers describe the timing and impact of the May 12th vote in diverging ways. The more optimistic portray the upcoming elections as a turning point that will reinforce current positive trends and close one of the darkest chapters of Iraq’s recent history.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr at a demonstration in April against the bombings of Syria by Britain, France and the United States.CreditHaidar Hamdani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iraq’s parliamentary elections on May 12 might seem to offer more of the same because most of the leading candidates and movements have dominated the country’s political life since the United States unseated Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the 44-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is leading an encouraging transformation, which could jar Iraq’s politicians out of their sectarian rut.

Mr. Sadr inherited millions of devoted followers from his family of revered religious scholars. Both his father and father-in-law were grand ayatollahs, the highest clerical level of Shiite Islam. He cemented his status by leading a bloody resistance against the American occupation and fighting the United States-allied government in Baghdad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today’s parliamentary elections in Iraq are the country’s first since the Islamic State was militarily defeated in December, and there are hopes Iraq will turn a new chapter and move forward in its attempts to remedy challenges to its security, endemic corruption and the polarization within its society and political elites.

There are few certainties in an election in which close to 7,000 candidates are running for just 329 seats — in a country where the political landscape has become increasingly fragmented. One near-certain outcome is the political ascendancy of Iraq’s Shiite militias, the most dominant of which lead the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) and have extensive ties to Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

People cast their ballots at a voting station on Sept. 25 in Kirkuk, Iraq. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Iraqis head to the polls on May 12 to vote for their next federal government. This will be the first time they vote since the territorial rise and fall of the Islamic State. It is also the first vote since a widespread protest movement started in 2015, calling for the removal of the current ruling elite and major reforms to the political system governing Iraq since 2003.

This vote, and the subsequent government-formation process, will determine Iraq’s political future. Despite a number of polls, it is impossible to tell who will become the next prime minister. Yet, pre-election maneuverings and strategies offer glimpses into the country’s political trajectory and the prospects of stabilization and rebuilding.…  Seguir leyendo »

Campaign billboards in Baghdad in 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

Iraq today has a unique of opportunity to chart a new path away from 15 years of chaos and upheaval.

Following the defeat of ISIS, the security situation is better than it has been for many years. Politically, there are glimpses of a move from identity to issue-based politics in various cross-sect electoral alliances. For instance, Islamists associated with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have joined forces with secularists linked to the Iraqi Communist Party. Many Iraqis now see corruption as just as bad as terrorism, and the gap between elite and citizen has become more important than the gap between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.…  Seguir leyendo »

El mes pasado, en conmemoración del 15.º aniversario de la Guerra de Irak, el New York Times publicó una conmovedora columna de Sinan Antoon, un novelista iraquí que vive en Estados Unidos, titulada “Hace quince años, Estados Unidos destruyó mi país”. Antoon se opuso tanto a la brutal dictadura de Saddam Hussein cuanto a la invasión liderada por Estados Unidos en 2003, que hundió el país en el caos, avivó las tensiones étnicas y provocó la muerte de cientos de miles de civiles. Al desestabilizar la región, la guerra hizo posible el ascenso de Estado Islámico, que en su momento cumbre llegó a ocupar una porción considerable del territorio iraquí, que usó como base para decapitar adversarios, intentar un genocidio contra la minoría yazidí y difundir el terrorismo en todo el mundo.…  Seguir leyendo »

15 años después de Irak

Hace justo 15 años que dio comienzo uno de los episodios más aciagos de lo que llevamos de siglo: la Guerra de Irak. En los prolegómenos de la guerra, todavía resonaba el eco del célebre editorial de Le Monde tras el 11-S, que proclamaba Nous sommes tous Américains y preveía que Rusia se convertiría en el principal aliado de Estados Unidos. Pero todo cambió drásticamente con la ofensiva del presidente George W. Bush en Irak, que creó un cisma interno en multitud de países, y también a escala global. Vista con perspectiva, hoy sabemos que la Guerra de Irak supuso un auténtico punto de inflexión: el origen de muchos de los actuales males en Oriente Próximo, y el final del período unipolar que se abrió con la caída de la Unión Soviética.…  Seguir leyendo »

Una estatua de Sadam Husein en frente del Comité Olímpico Nacional de Irak en llamas, en Bagdad, en 2003 Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Cuando tenía 12 años, Sadam Husein, vicepresidente de Irak en esa época, realizó una enorme purga y empezó a controlar oficialmente el poder absoluto. Por ese entonces yo vivía en Bagdad y, desde el principio, desarrollé un odio intuitivo y visceral contra el dictador. Ese sentimiento no hizo más que intensificarse y madurar junto conmigo.

A finales de la década de los noventa, escribí mi primera novela, I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, sobre la vida cotidiana bajo el régimen autoritario de Sadam. Su narrador, Furat, se parecía a mí: era un joven universitario que estudiaba Literatura Inglesa en la Universidad de Bagdad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Young boys known as the Cubs of the Caliphate march after graduating from a religious school in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. (Militant website/AP)

The Islamic State’s recruitment of children has been extensively and graphically documented. The militant group has used children as young as 7 as combatants, messengers, drivers and guards. Islamic State propaganda videos depict juvenile executioners from its “Cubs of the Caliphate” unit shooting prisoners at close range. Although the Islamic State has become notorious for its systematic indoctrination and use of children, media coverage has largely failed to acknowledge that it is but one of many armed groups in Syria and Iraq that have recruited underage girls and boys.

In a new study for United Nations University, I analyze patterns of child recruitment by 10 of the major armed groups participating in the geographically linked conflicts in Syria and Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ten Thousand Images Nori Sharif’s daughter, Sarah, holding a bullet, from Zaradasht Ahmed’s Nowhere to Hide, 2016

Nowhere to Hide, directed by the Iraqi-Norwegian filmmaker Zaradasht Ahmed, is a documentary story of the victims of the Iraq war, from different backgrounds and walks of life, who struggle to survive one occupation only to fall prey to a second. Set in Jalawla and the surrounding villages of Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, the film opens soon after the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in December 2011.

It follows the daily life of Nori Sharif, a nurse and father of four who narrates other people’s stories after the filmmaker provides him with a small camera to “help document life” after the withdrawal.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi dinar banknote with an image of Mosul's iconic minaret, which was destroyed by ISIS. Photo: Getty Images.

As ISIS lost one of its last villages in Iraq, Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition battling the group, took to Twitter for a victory lap. The organization’s ‘phony “caliphate”‘, he wrote, is ‘coming to an end’.

It is true that ISIS has lost the vast majority of its territory, which at its peak in 2014 included about one-third of Iraq and half of Syria. Once dubbed ‘the world’s richest terrorist organization’ by the United Nations, it has also lost an estimated 80 per cent of the funds it acquired by conquering territory and mimicking the functions of a state, collecting taxes and tariffs from the citizens under its control.…  Seguir leyendo »