After a year-long political deadlock that brought the country once again on the brink of civil war, the election of Abdul Latif Rashid as new President finally gave Iraq some breathing room. Member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Rashid has substantial government experience, having already been appointed Minister of Water Resources and presidential advisor. He defeated former President Barham Salih in the second round of vote held on 13 October, winning 162 votes against Saleh’s 99, after both candidates failed to earn the 220 votes required in the first round. Rashid immediately appointed Mohammed Shia al-Sabar al-Sudani (Islamic Dawa Party) as Prime Minister, kickstarting political negotiations that eventually ended at the end of the month, when the parliament approved a 21-member cabinet in which the Coordination Framework alliance has a significant say.
The new government was formed exactly one year after the 2021 elections, whose turbulent aftermath have not only deepened fissures along sectarian lines, but also created further divisions inside the main political milieus. The fragmentation process has been evident in Kurdistan, where the power struggle between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) not only forced the postponement of the local elections, extending the mandate of the regional government by one additional year; but had also important reverberations on the federal level, significantly delaying the selection of the President, usually reserved to the PUK, according to an informal power-sharing agreement that leaves the local government in the hands of the KDP. The traditional rivalry between the Barzani (KDP) and Talabani (PUK) clans has thus been revived at a critical juncture.
On the other hand, the intra-Shia split has had ripple effects on an already dysfunctional political system. The political rivalry between the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the Dawa Party intensified after the Sadrist Movement failed to form a government, despite having won the largest number of seats in the October 2021 elections. Sadr’s controversial decision to order his lawmakers to resign made the Dawa-led and Iran-affiliated Coordination Framework the largest bloc in parliament, leading to a political crisis this summer marked by the storming of the parliament by Sadr’s supporters to derail the appointment of Sudani and violent clashes in Baghdad in August between Sadrists and the Popular Mobilisation Forces (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) that left 30 people dead and more than 700 injured.
The appointment of Sudani, that irremediably looks like a band-aid solution to bigger problems, come as Iraq faces critical issues such as endemic corruption and climate change. He has promised to hold early elections within a year, during which the Sadrist Movement would likely regroup and challenge the ruling coalition. A short time to address the root causes of Iraq’s instability, among which the ‘muhasasa al-ta’ifa’ (apportionment between groups) quota system. This sectarian quota system, introduced by the US occupation as means to balance proportionally different political/religious groups, was already the main target of the 2019 protests led by the ‘Tishreen’ (October) movement.
Without comprehensive reforms and systemic changes aimed at improving the governance of the country (as recently urged by the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Iraq Jeanine Antoinette Hennis-Plasschaert), the risk is that the current political crisis will soon repeat itself, perpetuating the endless cycle of violence that has plagued Iraq since 2003 and other countries with similar quota systems.