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Middle East Press (12 May 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Whom Do You Stand With, Iran Or Israel? By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed: New Age Islam's Selection, 12 May 2018

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

12 May 2018

Whom Do You Stand With, Iran Or Israel?

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

A Peaceful Revolution in Malaysia

By Richard Javad Heydarian

Trump Is Playing Into the Hands of Iranian Hardliners

By Fareed Zakaria

Disputes over Iraq and Syria: Strategies and Ramifications

By Shehab Al-Makahleh

Lebanon’s Elections and the Region’s Challenges

By Randa Takieddine

What to Expect From Iraq's Election?

By Zaid Al-Ali

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Whom Do You Stand With, Iran Or Israel?

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

11 May 2018

It is a very embarrassing question because it violates all the concepts on which our political culture was built.

Yesterday, Israel attacked 50 positions managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria in retaliation for firing 10 missiles toward Israel. It was claimed that the Revolutionary Guards retaliated against the Israeli attacks a night earlier.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa volunteered to explain the stance. He wrote on Twitter: “Since Iran violated the status quo in the region and violated countries’ (sovereignty) via their forces and missiles, then any country in the region, including Israel, has the right to defend itself by destroying the sources of threat.”

Sheikh Khalid’s stance is consistent with any state that stands against Iran’s crimes in the region. In politics, stances change according to the interests and necessities. If we ask the majority of the Syrian people about their opinion, they would chant and support Israel in targeting Iranian forces and their militias in Syria.

There is no excuse stronger than defending the right of 600,000 people and the 10 million displaced citizens from the crimes of Iran’s forces and allies. Stances have their justifications and they are not always sacred as they are about a little rationality and a little sentiment.

The stance is with Iran if it supports the Palestinians, with Israel when it strikes Iran’s forces in Syria, with the Palestinians when Israel attacks them, with the Lebanese-Iranian Hezbollah when it said it was liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation and with Israel when it targets Hezbollah when it attacks the Lebanese and when it participates in killing the Syrians. The stance is with the attacked party against the assaulter.

Is it difficult to understand this logic? This is the required rational stance in a mad region. The ideologues are the only ones who are probably incapable of accepting it.

If you ask any Syrian or Lebanese woman whose son was killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, she will not hesitate to pray for victory to Israel and for the loss and defeat of its rivals. This does not make the Israelis right in occupying Palestinian territories or right in their persecution of the Palestinian people.

A Different Phase

We are facing a different phase and a war that’s new of its kind. For the first time, Israel and Iran are fighting as in the past the war between them was via their proxies. The fighting is now direct between them and it’s happening on Syrian territories.

For the first time ever, we see the Revolutionary Guards who dominated in the region, in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, pay a high price and realize that they trespassed their limits.

As they usually do in Lebanon, the Revolutionary Guards tried to evade responsibility and claimed in an official statement that they are not responsible for firing the 10 missiles towards Israel and blamed Assad’s forces for firing them.

The Israelis will not go to court and will not wait for international inspection committees to address this. They do not need evidence to know that who is behind this are Qassem Soleimani’s forces who will not be safe by hiding behind the powerless Syrian regime troops.

Soleimani’s Stance

Tehran must have heard about the stance of the Syrian regime – Soleimani says he’s willing to sacrifice the last standing Iranian soldier for Assad’s sake – that it is willing to sell Soleimani and the Iranians in the first political deal as a result of the new military developments.

Assad will cooperate with whichever power wins in his land and now that Israel is involved in the war, Iran is probably the biggest loser. Meanwhile, the Russians do not mind the new developments.

The picture is today clearer and the aim is to force Tehran’s regime to retreat. The plan includes American President Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear agreement and reinstate economic sanctions.

This is in addition to getting Israel’s military involved via the painful strikes that destroyed Iranian sites and convincing the Russians to be neutral as after they usually voiced objections they now sit in the observers’ seat and are no longer threatening to use their missiles against Israel’s strikes.

All this aims to serve the same purpose after the Tehran government refused international calls to militarily retreat to its borders and to stop interfering in the affairs of the region’s countries and toppling their governments.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/05/11/Whom-do-you-stand-with-Iran-or-Israel-.html


A Peaceful Revolution in Malaysia

By Richard Javad Heydarian

11 May 2018

On May 9, Malaysia shocked the world via a stunning electoral outcome that saw a nonagenarian return to power. Similar to the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential elections, most observers falsely predicted a narrow victory for the losing side.

Yet, only hours after election booths closed down, it became clear to everyone that the impossible had happened. At the age of 92, a remarkably robust and fiery Mahathir Mohamad, the former strongman of Malaysia, led an energised opposition against the formidable machinery of outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak.

With legendary conviction and swagger, Mahathir braved the sweltering summer heat, a battering campaign schedule, and endless mudslinging by his critics, who mockingly claimed he was just "too old" to run for office.

The newly minted Malaysian leader isn't, however, expected to stay in power for long. As part of a grand bargain, opposition groups adopted Mahathir as a transitional leader to shepherd the country towards a new era of democratic dynamism and clean governance.

Last century saw Mahathir build the foundations of an economically dynamic Malaysia. This century may see him paving the way for the creation of a robust democracy in Asia.

The ultimate winner of the elections is long-time democracy activist and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently in jail on sodomy charges. Having just secured a royal pardon, Anwar is slated to become Malaysia's prime minister for the foreseeable future.

After decades of sterile authoritarian politics, Malaysia has become, almost overnight, a beacon of democratic hope in a region troubled by right-wing populists and military regimes.

A Revolt against Corruption

At its very heart, the latest Malaysian elections reflected a nationwide rejection of corruption and impunity among the entrenched elite.

In many ways, the electoral outcome was tantamount to regime change, as the Mahathir-led opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan ended the six-decades-long rule of Barisan Nasional (BN), formerly the Alliance Party.

It marked the first interparty transition of power in post-independence Malaysian history. The outgoing prime minister and his associates were desperate to stay in power amid a massive corruption scandal, which could see him and his associates end up in jail.

Mr Najib and his coterie have been accused of looting as much as one billion US dollars from the state investment fund, also known as 1MDB. As a result, governments around the world, from the United States to France and Singapore, have launched investigations or frozen accounts associated with the 1MDB fund.

Yet, the Najib administration showed little interest in accountability and reform. If anything, it chose to dig in. Over the past two years, Najib mercilessly purged all critics within the government, including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in order to stave off any internal political coup.

In a direct assault on state institutions, the embattled leader went so far as firing the attorney general investigating the 1MDB corruption scandal.

After leaked confidential papers alleged that hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen funds ended up in his bank accounts, Najib astonishingly claimed that they were just "gifts" from the Saudi royal family.

But a majority of Malaysian people were sick and tired of painfully watching state institutions decaying under the punishing weight of widespread corruption and outright decadence among the ruling class.

Father of a Nation

The upshot was a political tsunami that saw no less than Mahathir, an ultimate insider and long-time mentor of Najib, joining forces with the opposition.

For two decades, Mahathir led with an iron-fist, muzzling the media, jailing rivals, including his former deputy-turned-ally Anwar, and overseeing draconian laws, which heavily marginalised ethnic minorities (ie, Chinese and Indian) and the liberal intelligentsia.

He also became a leading voice behind the so-called "Asian values" paradigm, self-interestedly claiming that civil liberties and individual freedoms are alien principles that run counter to the communitarian fabric of Eastern civilisations.

But Mahathir is also credited for turning Malaysia into a manufacturing hub, with a world-class infrastructure and a booming middle class. It's precisely this commendable legacy that has won him supporters across generations.

After stepping down from power in 2003, he quickly turned from a king to a kingmaker, engineering the ascent (and later dismissal) of his two successors, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak.

Najib would have lost power as early as 2013, if not for heavy gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, systematic intimidation of opposition media, and large-scale patronage of favoured and heavily rural constituencies,

Back then, the opposition, led by Anwar, won the popular vote but was heavily underrepresented in the parliament. This time, however, Mahathir managed to split the rural, Malay base of the ruling party, while rallying the more urbanised and ethnically diverse opposition groups under his charismatic leadership.

The road ahead, however, is challenging. Mahathir has promised to retrieve stolen funds from the state coffers, hold corrupt officials to account, and even review the country's major infrastructure deals with China, which heavily invested in Malaysia during Najib's reign.

Moving forward, he will have to reform state agencies, including the judiciary and internal security services, which are still populated by holdovers from the previous regime. Otherwise, any anti-corruption initiative will likely provoke a backlash from within the state apparatus.

Overhauling Malaysia's heavily damaged democratic institutions, however, will be a long-term project that will fall under the responsibility of Mahathir's successor, Anwar, and the country's new generation of progressive, young leaders.

For now, boundless hope is in the air. Democratic change has finally come to the Southeast Asian country, though, quite paradoxically, through the intervention of a former strongman.

Decades from now, Malaysia's 14th general elections will likely be remembered as a peaceful revolution, which altered the Southeast Asian nation's history.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/peaceful-revolution-malaysia-180511140532987.html


Trump Is Playing Into the Hands of Iranian Hardliners

By Fareed Zakaria

May 11, 2018

It is hard to understand the rationale behind Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be a "chaos president." And this week, Trump lived up to the billing, choosing to defy virtually the entire world, including America's closest European allies, and raising tensions in the most unstable part of the globe, the Middle East.

It is hard to understand the rationale behind Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is as dangerous and malign an actor as he says, surely it is best to have its nuclear program frozen at a pre-military level and monitored 24/7. The chances of getting Tehran to agree to more stringent terms are close to zero. If the terms of the Iran deal were applied to North Korea, it would require Pyongyang to destroy its nuclear weapons -  the fruits of a decades-long effort - and agree to invasive inspections and foreign surveillance in a country so closed it is known as the Hermit Kingdom.

If there is a strategy behind Trump's move, it is probably regime change in Tehran. His closest advisers have long championed regime change and have argued that the best approach toward Iran is a combination of sanctions, support for opposition groups, and military intervention. As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Obama administration for negotiating with Tehran and instead suggested that the US launch close to 2,000 bombing sorties against Iran. National security adviser John Bolton has been even more forceful in pushing for regime change, advocating much greater support for the MEK, a militant opposition group with a checkered past and little support within Iran. Both Bolton and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani have given paid speeches for the MEK, and in Paris last July, Bolton declared that the United States should pursue regime change in Iran so that the Islamic Republic would not celebrate its 40th birthday (which would be in 2019). Thus, three of Trump's closest advisers right now have views on Iran that are so extreme that it is hard to think of anyone outside of Saudi Arabia or Israel who shares them.

Iran is a repressive and anti-American regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America's detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood American pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the last two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora's box in a land already rife with woes.

Look beyond the Middle East at the record of regime change. Whether it was an unfriendly ruler like Guatemala's Jacobo Arbenz or a friendly one like South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem, regime change was followed by greater instability. Look at Iran itself, where a British-American sponsored coup led to the dislodging of the elected government, which was one of the factors that led to and still legitimizes the Islamic Republic. Consider also America's heavy-handed intervention in the Cuban liberation movement around the turn of the 20th century, which left a legacy of anti-Americanism that the Cuban Communists exploit to this day. Misjudging and mishandling nationalism may be the central error in American foreign policy.

By contrast, when America has helped open countries to capitalism, commerce and contact, these acids of modernity have almost always eaten away at the nastiest elements of dictatorships. For all its problems, China today is a much better and more responsible country than it was under Mao Zedong. People often point to Ronald Reagan's campaign against the Soviet Union as one in which pressure against an evil empire helped produce regime change. But they remember only half the story. Reagan did pressure the Soviets. But as soon as he found a reformer, in Mikhail Gorbachev, he embraced him, supported him and made concessions to him. So much so that he drew furious opposition from conservatives in America who called him "a useful idiot" who was helping the Soviet Union win the Cold War.

Iran is a complicated country with a complicated regime. But it does have moderate elements within it that were clearly hoping the nuclear deal would be a path to integration and normalization with the world. Those forces do not have the dominant hand, but they do have power, not least because President Hasan Rouhani has popular backing. But Iran has always had a strong hard-line element that believed that America could never be trusted, and that self-reliance, autarky and the spread of Shia ideology was their own strategy for self-preservation. Donald Trump has just proved them right.

Source: khaleejtimes.com/editorials-columns/trump-is-playing-into-the-hands-of-iranian-hardliners


Disputes over Iraq and Syria: Strategies and Ramifications

By Shehab Al-Makahleh

11 May 2018

Disputes in the Middle East cannot be resolved unilaterally. They can only be tackled collectively, through integrated regional and international cooperation. This applies to challenges such as the Palestinian cause, terrorism, Arab-Iranian conflict and other lesser predicaments.

Some political observers believe that the Arab-Iranian dispute should be addressed even before the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Since 1967, the Middle East has been a hub for the worst military conflicts and wars.

About 22 percent of world’s conflicts have been concentrated in the region during the past three decades. When the eight-year Iraqi-Iranian went on from 1980 to 1988, both countries lost more than 2 million soldiers.

UN statistics reveal that about 40 percent of the total number of those killed in armed conflicts has fallen in the Middle East since 1980 until the end of 2017. Such conflicts have complicated the political scene and have led to further chaos when the Arab Spring erupted in some Arab republics.

Up to 72 percent of world war toll and military conflict fatalities have been reported in the Middle East. Moreover, the Middle East has the highest levels of terrorist attacks since 2003. Incidents of terrorism increased by 50 percent, leaving many countries behind owing to their impact on economies.

Balance Of Power

Many states harbour a strong belief that their main enemy is Iran as it tampers with the stability of Arab countries. This started with Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. Since no conflict can take place without the pretext, if the root cause is to be resolved then changing the balance of power and the regime in Iran are a must.

As Iran was eying Iraq since 1980s, after regime had changed in Tehran in 1979, a conflict broke out which saw in the Iranian expansionist policies a strategy to rule over the whole region.

The first Iranian step was to control Iraq after American pullout because Iraq is in the north of the Gulf and Iran is located to the east of the Gulf States.

This is likely to pose a major threat to Gulf states as Iraq is geographically and strategically located between three major powers: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Turkey and Iran.

Iranians have sought to play the Iraq card first before moving to play other cards which include sectarianism, the cards of Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iran believes that an Arab-Iranian model can be created through the Iraqi gate, with the support of others – such as Russia, Syria – without reaching a compromise between Arabs and Iranians in such a conflict.

There is a firm belief that the Iranian regime should be changed in order for the country’s policies to be changed accordingly. Hence, changing the regime of the Vilayat al-Faqih may be considered a regional and international necessity before the possibility of confluence of Iraq and the other Gulf states in the form of an alliance or to form a new regional system.

No Peace Deal

But why all previous wars have ended with no peace deal or surrender agreement? The Iran-Iraqi war ended on August 8, 1988 with a truce but without a peace or surrender agreement being signed. The same applies to the two wars against Iraq.

Thus, the answer is simply tacit which bears the seeds of a war that would erupt any moment. Should this happen, Iran will be forced to leave Iraq and Syria to protect its borders.

Iran looks at Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiite, from a heritage perspective. It considers the GCC a springboard backed by the West to besiege Iranian revolution.

On the other hand, Gulf Arabs regard the Iranian revolution as an existential threat. This was exemplified by Khomeini who called on Arabs in the Gulf to stir up revolution.

Iran and Arab states are heading toward direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power. The month of May is very critical where the future of the Middle East region will be at stake.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/05/11/Disputes-over-Iraq-and-Syria-Strategies-and-ramifications.html


Lebanon’s Elections and the Region’s Challenges

By Randa Takieddine

11 May 2018

The recent elections have not changed the balance of power in Lebanon. Everyone knows that Hezbollah dominates decision-making in the country and the proof is that it never commits to the “policy of dissociating” the country from the region’s crises.

The regional arena and international developments following Trump’s decision on the nuclear deal with Iran has raised plenty of questions as to how Lebanon and its new government, which will probably be headed by Saad Hariri, will deal with various issues — primarily those pertaining to Syrian refugees, the country’s relations with the Syrian regime, the stance towards Iran’s activities in the region and the implementation of the conditions of the Cedar Conference.

Hariri’s Stance against Syrian Regime

President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have repeatedly said it is important that Syrian refugees return to Syria. Hariri agrees to the principle that they must return to Syria, but only when the security situation is conducive for their return. At a meeting in Brussels, Hariri asked the international community to help Lebanon bear this burden.

The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate this matter with it and wants to force him into giving up his stance against talking with Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem visited New York and asked his Lebanese counterpart, who did not hesitate to meet him without getting an approval from the cabinet and the prime minister first, not to say that it’s important to negotiate with the Syrian regime regarding the issue of the refugees and to leave this task for Hariri to force him to speak with the regime.

So will Hariri, if he heads the government that will include several ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, negotiate with a regime that’s fighting with its Sunni citizens, displacing them and forcing them to become refugees in neighbouring countries? Before killing its Sunni citizens, the Syrian regime has killed plenty of Lebanese figures of whom the most important was its Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri.

There is no doubt that addressing the issue of ties with the Syrian regime will be one of the most difficult matters that Hariri will confront because Bassil, who aspires to succeed his father-in-law, will stand with Hezbollah, the actual decision maker in this case, which never cared about the government’s dissociation policy.

Hezbollah-Israel Clash

In addition, how will Hariri confront the threat of escalation between Hezbollah and Israel after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and if Iran escalates its destructive activities in the region, from Syria, Yemen to Lebanon, via Hezbollah? After winning in the elections, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said Beirut is part of “the Resistance.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli official said after elections ended that “Lebanon meant Hezbollah” – as if this harmonizes with Hezbollah’s stance. If Israel continues to escalate the situation with Iran in Syria, the question will be: Will Iran drag Hezbollah to involve Lebanon in a war since Nasrallah thinks Beirut stands for the “Resistance”? It’s not in Hezbollah’s interest to open another front in Lebanon but it may find itself forced to do so to serve its Iranian guardian.

Will the 2006 scenario repeat in Lebanon? In this case, the promises made at the Cedar Conference will come to an end. However, when it comes to the economic aspect, the Lebanese president — like the prime minister — showed he wants the path of the Cedar Conference to succeed, unlike Hezbollah and its media outlets which have been skeptical about it.

Hariri has an ally in this matter, the president and his governing family – although Bassil’s ambition to become a president makes him stand with Nasrallah all the time as seen in the statements he made during the electoral campaign.

The results of Lebanon’s elections did not carry huge surprises but they raise plenty of questions during a very critical period of time in the Middle East considering there is a confrontation between the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah, which are destabilizing the region, and an impulsive American president and his Israeli allies. We pray to God that what’s next is not worse for a region that has been enduring many wars and destruction.

Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2018/05/11/Lebanon-s-elections-and-the-region-s-challenges-.html


What to Expect From Iraq's Election?

By Zaid al-Ali

11 May 2018

This week's elections in Iraq are unlikely to produce any earth-shattering results. There is far more electoral competition between parties in Iraq than most other countries in the region, including Lebanon where voters this week returned the country's political monopoly to power with scarcely any changes. But most of the main candidates in Iraq are well-known quantities and there is absolutely no chance of any independent figures or new political forces breaking into parliament or into government. Given how dysfunctional many of those candidates have been while in power since 2003, many voters have already decided that they will protest against the state. The only real question is how many votes Iraq's dominant parties will gain on election day, and how they will use the results when negotiating the formation of the next government.

Some commentators have noted that one difference in 2018 is the increasing number of cross-sectarian alliances, but that trend started many cycles ago, and there are currently very few electoral alliances that are likely to attract voters from across the ethno-sectarian divide. There is an argument that electoral politics have regressed in that regard: in 2010 and 2014, there was significant chatter about new civil, independent movements that contested those elections, but they have been close to absent from the current elections.

As in the past, the main focus of attention will be on how Shia Iraqis will cast their votes. Their community's dominant position virtually guarantees that the next prime minister will be drawn from one of a small number of parties and alliances. That is even more certain than in the past, given how divided and discredited other communities' politicians have become. And while most parties barely have any political platforms to speak of, there are a few differences that will make a difference to Iraq's future, including their respective positions on whether the country should be involved in the region's many conflicts. 

Who Is Running?

Past electoral cycles have produced many surprises, including Iyad Allawi's surprise victory in 2010, so predictions are naturally unwise. However, the frontrunner in the 2018 elections appears to be current prime minister Haider al-Abadi. The question is less whether al-Abadi will come out on top, and more how much distance he will be able to put between himself and his closest competitors. Al-Abadi is a moderate in both substance and style: a soft-spoken individual whose rhetoric is consistently conciliatory and who seeks to keep Iraq at arm's distance from all international and regional powers and, thereby, protect the population from any new conflicts. Al-Abadi's narrative and electoral platform will appeal to many voters, particularly given the state's victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for which al-Abadi has taken some credit, and for Baghdad's vastly improved security since 2014. He has set the tone for these elections, which have been remarkably civil in comparison to the poisonous atmosphere that prevailed in 2005, 2010 and 2014. At the same time, however, al-Abadi's moderation suggests weakness to those voters who are accustomed to their leaders projecting strength and arrogance, which has led some analysts to question whether he will do well enough to dominate the next government.

Alliances headed by Muqtada al-Sadr and by Hadi al-Amiri are al-Abadi's main competitors. Al-Sadr and his family profess to represent Iraq's most marginalised economic communities, and as a result, he is one of the country's very few political movements that has a loyal constituency that consistently earns him approximately nine percent of the popular vote. Al-Sadr's platform strongly favours an independent foreign policy, which sets it apart from Iranian-backed politicians including al-Amiri. He also carries a strong anti-corruption message, which he has demonstrated his commitment to by forbidding almost all of his alliance's previous MPs from standing in this year's election (nominally in an effort to curb the benefits of incumbency). Finally, al-Sadr has allied with the Iraqi Communist Party, formally to encourage greater participation of Iraq's technocratic class in any future government. It is unclear whether that will translate into additional votes (some Iraqis are likely to shy away from voting for any alliance that includes communists), or even whether it will actually lead to an improvement in the government's performance.

Hadi al-Amiri's Fatah Alliance is one of the main unknowns in the coming elections. Fatah is led by the Badr Brigades and by elements drawn from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), many of which have received material support from Iran. The Alliance will no doubt benefit from the PMF's popularity in some circles, but a number of other factors will bear significant negative weight on its prospects. Among other things, al-Amiri's own performance when he was minister, which includes serious allegations of nepotism and a series of questionable statements to the press denying that there was any real poverty in Iraq, does not play very well with the public. Serious questions have also recently been raised about al-Amiri's administration of PMF monies, which will serve to remind voters of his pre-2014 past. In addition, al-Amiri's and Fatah's close association with Iran is an overall negative in Iraq generally and in the Shia community that al-Amiri hopes to draw most of his votes from. It is by now well established that a large number of Iraqis, including Shia Iraqis, would prefer to keep an expansionist Iran at arm's length and to not be involved in in the region's worsening conflicts. In the past, those preferences caused for voters to abandon other Iranian-backed alliances en masse and that factor could easily work against al-Amiri, particularly given how war-weary Iraqis have become in recent years and given that Iraq's regular army, police and special forces have now regained many people's trust.

The other two alliances that are worth discussing here include Ammar al-Hakim's Citizen Alliance and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance. Al-Hakim has rebranded himself and his movement on a number of occasions since 2009, in an attempt to formally distance himself from his family's pro-Iranian past. His platform is currently designed to appeal to a younger generation of Iraqis. That narrative is unlikely to be particularly appealing to sufficient numbers of voters, particularly given the competition from other coalitions, which means that his Alliance is unlikely to improve on its performance in the 2014 elections. Meanwhile, al-Maliki is broadly damaged goods at this point. He has been at the receiving end of so much criticism and blame for his role in the Iraqi army's incredible defeat in 2014 that few major political figures were willing to join forces with him, and most of the rest have essentially vetoed him as a viable national figure since 2014. He will still attract votes, mainly due to the lingering benefits of his eight-year incumbency as prime minister, but he is no longer considered a leading candidate for prime minister.

Future Government

After the dust clears, and each party's respective vote count is tallied, they will start the long and painful process of forming a new government. Given all of the above, pro-Iranian forces are not likely to win a controlling share of parliament, which means that Iraq will probably be able to maintain its independent stance and focus most of its attention on internal issues.

At the same time, however, whatever government is formed will be necessarily as incoherent as in the past. Research that was carried out in Lebanon in the run-up to last week's elections showed that a crushing majority of candidates had little knowledge of their own parties' platforms. If similar research were carried out in Iraq, it would no doubt lead to similar results. Government formation in Iraq is negotiation not over policies, but over personalities and power plays.

If there is one thing that the future government could do to improve performance it would be to prioritise one area of reform over all others (such as education or healthcare) and to invest the bulk of the state's capacity into that area for a specific period with a view to making real and quick progress at least in one area. That would not only lead to improved standards of living, but it would also improve the public's trust in government. Previous government programs did not set out clear priority areas, and the result was that whatever progress was made was painstakingly slow and marginal. Let us hope that at least that lesson will be learned and that some form of prioritisation will be introduced in the coming period.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/expect-iraq-election-180511105905533.html


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