By Verda Özer
When I was in Iraq two months ago, the elections held last Wednesday, April 30, had already become the top item on Iraq’s agenda. No one had any doubt of Nouri al-Maliki’s upcoming victory. And it seems they were all right.
The exact results of the elections are going to be announced at the end of this month. Yet, projection is possible based on preliminary counting. I spoke to a top official from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry who shared with me the following results: Votes for al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition are not as high as expected. He estimates that al-Maliki won 60-70 seats, that Shiite leader Ammar Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq got between 40 and 50 and that Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar Coalition scored 30-40 seats.
Among the Sunni coalitions, Osama al-Nujaifi’s Uniters List is expected to win between 30 and 35 seats, Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord Party, which was supported by Turkey in the 2010 elections, about 20 and the Civil Democratic Alliance about 10.
Kurdish parties, on the other hand, have for the first time joined these elections separately. It is certain that the party of the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, has won the highest share among them. President Jalal Talabani’s and Nawshirwan Mustafa’s parties are neck and neck.
It is highly likely that al-Maliki won’t be able to form an absolute majority government. In that case, his Shiite rivals could hold the majority by making an alliance, which would enable them to name the prime minister. In that case also Sunnis and Kurds would certainly support their nominee.
Another thing that is certain is Ankara has not supported any political group in these elections, contrary to the previous ones since that seriously harmed its relations with Baghdad.
So how did al-Maliki get re-elected, given that he is harshly criticized by every segment, including the Shiites, due to his authoritarian and highly centralizing policies? You could also add to that the graft allegations about him. The answer is clear: the violence in Iraq.
The civil war in Iraq has escalated since the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2011. Sunnis, which make up one-fifth of the country, are rising up against the Shiite government’s authoritarian tendencies. Sunni uprisings in Syria have also been another source of motivation. In addition, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has gained strength in the country. Al-Maliki is gaining from all of these sources of violence.
There are also many “firsts” in these elections. They have been the first elections since the U.S. withdrew from the country. Another first is that political fragmentation has never been this much before. Even sectarian parties that had joined the 2010 elections as political blocs have joined these elections as fragmented among themselves.
What will be the impact of the election results in Ankara? Ankara’s relations with Baghdad are already sour. So Ankara is certainly not content with the results. Yet, ISIS’ increasing power in Iraq along with the Syrian war are also great security risks for Turkey. Hence Ankara could take security and stability as top priority and try to fix its relations with Baghdad. This is also dictated by its energy ties with northern Iraq, which have caused serious problems between Ankara and Baghdad.