Iraq’s parliament has adopted controversial amendments for the country’s election law that could reduce the membership of small parties, grassroots movements and independents in parliament.
The changes were proposed by the Co-ordination Framework, a coalition of Iran-backed factions which commands the majority in parliament. After prolonged wrangling the measure passed by a 206-12 vote in the 329-seat assembly. Opposition politicians who disturbed the vote count were ejected by security guards.
The amendments, which favour large parties and blocs, make each of the 18 provinces an electoral district. The bill reverses key articles adopted in the 2021 federal election law which divided the provinces into 83 districts and enabled marginal factions, popular groupings and individuals to win seats.
Parliamentary opponents of the amendments had stalled the vote for weeks by denying a quorum, while activists took to the streets to protest. In advance of the vote hundreds demonstrated in Baghdad and other cities, where they blocked roads with burning tyres.
The 2021 law was spurred by 2019 mass protests, dubbed the October Revolution, against politicians who were accused of rampant mismanagement and corruption. Demonstrators demanded the removal of the sectarian model of governance installed by the United States after its 2003 occupation of Iraq. Under this system the president must be a Kurd, the prime minister a Shia Muslim, and the council speaker a Sunni Muslim. Posts in the administration have been awarded to sectarian faction loyalists.
The October 2021 election delivered a blow to the pro-Iran Shia bloc which lost nearly half of its votes and two-thirds of seats it won in the 2018 polls.
The party, headed by nationalist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – who calls for an end to Iranian and US intervention in Iraq – won 73 seats, the largest number, but failed to establish a government with Kurdish and Sunni partners. Last June he ordered his lawmakers to resign, prompting widespread unrest.
Mr Sadr miscalculated. Instead of forcing a new election seats vacated by his bloc were taken up by members of other factions, enabling the pro-Iran Co-ordination Framework to secure a majority and appoint Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani as prime minister. He formed a government a year and 17 days after the election.
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While promising to tackle corruption, unemployment and poverty, Mr Sudani also pledged to amend the election law within three months and hold early parliamentary elections this autumn.
On March 19th a border security agreement advantageous to Iran was signed by Baghdad and Tehran. Iran continues to wield considerable political and economic influence in Iraq. Under the deal Iraq pledged to prevent Iranian Kurdish dissidents based in Iraq’s Kurdish region to mount cross-border attacks into Iran. Iraq depends on Iranian natural gas and electricity, and is a big customer for Iranian goods.