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Following elections in October 2021, in July 2022 Iraq marked its longest period without a government since an election, exceeding its previous record of 289 days. This deadlock continued until October 2022, when Abdul Latif Rashid was elected president. A new cabinet and Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, were approved in late October.

Rashid’s election follows a year of substantial political uncertainty and division among Shia parties in Iraq. This briefing describes the key events since October 2021 and the outlook for the country.  

Iraq’s post-2003 politics

Following the US-led military campaign in 2003, there was a redistribution of political power in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, the Sunni Muslim minority was awarded greater influence. But elections have seen increased representation for Shia Muslims and the Kurdish minority. Iran, as a Shia power, has also supported armed groups and others to increase its influence.

Post-2003 politics has typically operated on sectarian lines, but there have been growing divisions among Shia, Kurdish, and Sunni parties.

2019 protests and an early election in 2021

Elections scheduled for 2022 were brought forward to October 2021 following popular protests in 2019. These protests called for corruption to be addressed and invoked criticism of Iran’s influence in the country. In response, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, resigned.

According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, nearly 600 protesters were killed. Both state and paramilitary forces were blamed.

The UN judged the elections to be well-run overall. The elections saw some rebalancing within Shia political parties: Shia Cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc gained at the expense of the Shia Al-Fatah alliance (the latter is backed by Iran). The Sadrist block won 73 of the 329 seats, being the largest party. Al-Sadr has opposed both the US presence in Iraq and Iran’s support for rival Shia groups. From 2003, his supporters, then known as the Mahdi army, conducted several attacks on US, coalition, and rival Shia forces.

Al-Fatah and some other Shia parties protested the results, alleging fraud. Iran-backed militias were also suspected of an assassination attempt against the Prime Minister in November 2021. Iran’s Government condemned the attack which, together with the losses for supportive parties in the election, suggested to analysts that Iran is losing some of its influence in Iraq.

Struggle to form a government

Al-Sadr, as leader of the largest political group, took the lead in proposing a government, in alliance with Sunni and Kurdish parties. However, these talks stalled. In June 2022, Al-Sadr’s representatives resigned their seats.  

They were replaced by Al-Fatah and other parties, and the Shia Coordination Framework is now the largest bloc. They nominated Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani for Prime Minister in July. This was met by protests by Al-Sadr supporters, who sought to exert external pressure on negotiations. In August, Al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics. This was marked by further protests and violence.

In October, Kurdish politician Abdul Latif Rashid was elected president. He appointed Al-Sudani as his Prime Minister and a new cabinet was endorsed by the parliament in October. This ends the longest deadlock over the forming of a new government since 2003. The new Government faces the continuing challenges of addressing an economic crisis, the risk of terrorism, and negotiating tensions with the US, Iran, Turkey, and the Kurdish autonomous region. Among its policies are new elections for Iraq within a year.

Update log

August 2022: Al-Sadr has announced his intention to withdraw from politics. This has been marked by protests and violence.

November 2022: A president and prime-minister have been appointed. The new government will seek to hold early elections in 2023. 

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