Iraq vote recount under way amid mounting challenges

Protesters took to the streets to demand jobs and better public services in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
Sunday 15/07/2018
Iraqi protesters burn tyres and block the road at the entrance to the city of Basra,  on July 12. (Reuters)
On the edge. Iraqi protesters burn tyres and block the road at the entrance to the city of Basra, on July 12. (Reuters)

LONDON - Iraqi election officials are conducting a partial manual recount of ballots from May’s national elections following allegations of voting fraud but the process comes at a time of multiple challenges for the country.

Recount operations have included the provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaimaniyah, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Qadisiyyah, Wasit and Basra.

Final results must be ratified before a coalition government can be formed but negotiations among blocs that received the most votes in the first vote count have been ongoing.

The Marching Towards Reform list, backed by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, secured the largest share of the vote, with 54 seats in parliament. It was followed by Conquest Alliance, led by Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, with 47 seats. The Victory Alliance, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, was third with 42 seats.

Despite announcing political alliances with both Abadi and Amiri, as well as the leaders of other blocs, al-Sadr has yet to secure an agreement on what the next government would look like.

'Reform plans'

“We’re looking at new ways of drawing up coalitions in line with our reform plans,” Dia al-Asadi, head of al-Sadr’s political bureau, told Anadolu Agency.

While the vote recount and political negotiations continue, protesters took to the streets to demand jobs and better public services in the oil-rich southern city of Basra. One person was killed as police dispersed the demonstrations.

“[They are] youths demanding solutions to the problem of unemployment that has deteriorated because of the inaction of the federal government,” Karim Shuak, a member of Basra’s provincial council, told Agence France-Presse.

Iraqis have also been protesting power outages, prompting al-Sadr to call for resorting to foreign companies to provide electricity.

Protesters stormed the airport in the city of Najaf, briefly disrupting air traffic. Protests also took place in Nasiriya and Amara.

'Electricity shortages and government corruption'

The Shia cleric had frequently called on past governments to improve basic services for citizens but once an al-Sadr-backed government is formed, he will be under pressure to deliver.

“If [a future] al-Sadr government fails to improve the provision of electrical power, the former amplifier of protesters may find himself the target of demonstrations,” wrote Andrea Taylor, a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East.

“Iraqi protesters have drawn a link between electricity shortages and government corruption. Consistent with this, electricity provision may provide a tangible marker against which Iraqis will measure whether al-Sadr fulfils his anti-corruption commitment in the coming years,” wrote Taylor.

Abadi ordered a ministerial committee to investigate into the Basra protesters’ demands but since parliament was dissolved June 30 and the new one has yet to be sworn in, the government is the only authority in charge in the face of public discontent.

Iraq fight against ISIS

Some politicians expressed concern over the government’s work without parliamentary oversight.

“The powers of the government should be limited to the everyday business of running the country. There is nothing in the Constitution about this but the government shouldn’t continue with its full powers in the absence of any checks and balances from a supervisory authority, such as the parliament,” Sabah al-Saidi, who won a parliamentary seat with al-Sadr’s alliance, told the website.

The tensions come as Iraq has renewed its efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces, after declaring victory against the militants last December.

Canada said it would assume command of a NATO training and capacity-building mission in Iraq. Up to 250 Canadian troops are expected to head to Iraq before the end of the year. Australia is reportedly sending two military trainers to the NATO mission in Iraq, in what the Australian government termed as a “small but meaningful” contribution.

It has been one year since Iraqi forces dislodged ISIS militants from Mosul but residents of the city have yet to see their destroyed homes rebuilt, especially in the western side of the city.

“More than 380,000 people are still displaced in and around Mosul as the city lies in ruins with a staggering 8 million tonnes of debris,” said a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which said $874 million is needed to repair Mosul’s basic infrastructure.

Abadi said the government “has allocated a large portion of its budget for the reconstruction process” but called on the international community for more aid.