Iraq Political Crisis

Ömer Faruk ÖZTÜRK

What happened in Iraq in the last days of August 2022 has drawn the attention of the whole world to this country. The demonstrations that started on the morning of August 29 turn into armed clashes towards the evening. Is a civil war starting in Iraq? He brought up his questions. It is possible to trace the process that brought Iraq to this point until the US invasion, which started in 2003. This occupation not only had many regional and global effects, but also radically changed the Iraqi domestic political system. From its establishment as a kingdom in 1921 until the US invasion, Iraq was governed centrally and authoritatively. Although a republic was declared in 1958, a system based on popular sovereignty was not established in the country, and coups and dictators became a part of the Iraqi political system. Before the US invasion, there was a 30-year Saddam Hussein rule in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, who ruled the country centrally and authoritatively like previous administrations, was overthrown and executed by the US invasion.

Change in Iraqi Political System

In the post-Saddam Hussein period, a new political system was established in Iraq that shared power between the three major ethnic groups, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. According to this new system, the office of chairman of the parliament was given to Sunnis, the office of prime minister to Shiites and the office of presidency to Kurds. Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish assistants were appointed to these positions. These assistants were chosen from different ethnic identities with those in office. There is no opposition element in this system, which is basically based on the cooperation of the three major ethnic identities in the country. With this system, national unity governments were established, including all the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties that entered the parliament. According to the system, the parliament elects first a Sunni speaker and then a Kurdish president by majority vote. The elected Kurdish president gives the task of forming the government to the Shiite party that receives the most votes.

However, this system that was designed did not bring stability to Iraq and caused the parties to consolidate within themselves. In the absence of an opposition, the way the administration can be held accountable has been blocked. The division of state institutions among three groups caused inter-institutional struggle and the inability to carry out the most basic public works.

Early Elections in Iraq and Split Between Shiite Groups

When it came to October 2019, problems in the political system broke out when the people started protesting against the government. As a result of the protests, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned and Mustafa al-Kazim, who was the head of the Intelligence Service at the time, became the interim prime minister. As a result of the Iraqi early elections held in October 2019, the Sadr Movement won 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament. The leader of the movement, Muqtada es-Sadr, wanted to establish a national majority government instead of establishing a national unity government, unlike previous periods. Sadr certainly did not want former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in his government. The main reason for this is the operations launched by Nuri al-Maliki against the Mahdi Army led by Sadr in 2008 during his prime ministry. This group, which was the militia force of Muqtada es-Sadr, later turned into Seraya es-Salam.

Sadr’s desire to exclude Maliki from the new government was not accepted by other Shiite parties, and with the merger of Shiite leaders such as Hadi Al Amiri, Nuri al-Maliki, Ahmet al-Asedi and Falih Fayyad, leader of the Fatah Coalition, against Sadr, “Shiite Coordination Framework” group was established. Muqtada es-Sadr wanted to form a national majority government together with Sunnis and Kurds against this group. However, the fierce opposition of the Shiites and the separation between the two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK, caused Muqtada es-Sadr to fail to gather the majority to form the government despite three attempts. The reason for the split between the KDP and PUK is that they could not agree on a single candidate for the presidency. The PUK side wanted Berham Salih, who is the current president and also one of their own party, to stay in office. The KDP side, on the other hand, wanted their candidate, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari, to be president, as they had received more votes than the PUK in the early elections. The fact that the two sides could not agree on a common candidate caused them to support different parties in the split between the Sadr Movement and the Shiite Coordination Framework. The fact that Sadr was deprived of the PUK’s support resulted in the inability to elect a new president in the parliament, and thus the inability to form a new government. Because, according to the constitution, the task of forming the government must be given by the newly elected president.

When Muqtada es-Sadr could not form the national majority government he had planned, he ordered 73 deputies of his own movement in the parliament to resign. This move of Sadr has led to comments that he is trying to turn the opposition in the parliament into popular opposition. Sadr also wanted to show that he is an indispensable element in the new period by escalating the crisis with this move. Because Sadr thought that Poems could not produce a common prime minister candidate without him.

However, Sadr’s plan did not work, and the Shiite Coordination Framework identified Mohammed Shia Sudani as the joint prime minister candidates. However, Muqtada es-Sadr prevented the voting of this candidacy by mobilizing the masses affiliated with him. Between July 27 and July 30, Sadr supporters raided the Parliament building in the Green Zone twice. During the events, Muqtada al-Sadr asked his supporters to leave the parliament building but to continue the sit-ins in the Green Zone. Muqtada es-Sadr used popular opposition to prevent the Shiite Coordination Framework from convening the parliament and thus making his own candidate prime minister. Sadr reactivated this popular opposition at the end of August.

29-30 August Conflicts

The demonstrations at the end of August started with the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s declaration of his complete withdrawal from politics. Sadr’s move caused an outrage among his large followers, and pro-Sadr groups took to the streets in the capital Baghdad and in the southern provinces where Iraqi Shiites are densely populated. Demonstrations in Baghdad concentrated in the Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign representations are located, and Sadr supporters stormed the Presidential Palace and the Government Palace in the Green Zone. As a result of the intervention of the Iraqi security forces with rubber bullets and tear gas, the demonstrators were evacuated from the state buildings and an indefinite curfew was declared across the country with the statement made by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command. Pro-Sadr masses ignored the announced curfew and continued their demonstrations around the Green Zone in Baghdad and in other cities.

On the evening of 29 August, the street demonstrations have evolved to a new dimension and intensified. The rubber bullets in the morning turned into real bullets and the armed militias affiliated with Muqtada es-Sadr took to the streets. Violent clashes, in which heavy weapons were used, took place throughout the night. Muqtada es-Sadr, the owner of the resignation that ignited the events, called for the cessation of the clashes and announced that he was on a hunger strike until the clashes were over. This move of Sadr has been interpreted as his attempt to take responsibility for the events. In addition, the continuation of conflicts after this statement led to comments that Sadr had difficulty in controlling his own audience. When the demonstrations started to turn into conflict, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi announced on the official Twitter account of the Prime Ministry Media Office that the members of the Army were instructed not to shoot at the demonstrators, and that those who did not comply with this order would be prosecuted. However, against the pro-Sadr masses, there were rival Shiite militia groups besides the Iraqi Armed Forces, and the main loyalty of these militia groups was to their leaders.

In the end, the calls of the parties to stop the conflict and show restraint were inconclusive and the armed clashes that started on the evening of 29 August continued throughout the night. The clashes, in which 23 people were killed and 700 injured, ended on the morning of 30 August when Muqtada es-Sadr ordered his supporters to withdraw from the streets within 1 hour.

At this point, although the conflicts have stopped for now, the Iraqi political system is still far from stability. As the reasons for Sadr to withdraw his supporters from the streets; It is shown that the events went beyond peaceful protests, the other side accepted early elections and Sadr was left alone by the Sunni and Kurdish blocs. An early election is planned for the coming period, but it is a matter of curiosity how a new election will benefit system-related problems.

References

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Duman, B. “Bir asrın izleri…”, Milliyet, https://www.milliyet.com.tr/yazarlar/dusunenlerin-dusuncesi/bir-asrin-izleri-6667617 (Date of access:10.09.2022)

Anadolu Ajansı, “Irak’ta 2019’a hükümet karşıtı gösteriler damgasını vurdu”, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/irakta-2019a-hukumet-karsiti-gosteriler-damgasini-vurdu-/1683472, (Date of access: 10.09.2022)

Aygün, F. T. “Irak’ı neler bekliyor?”, https://www.star.com.tr/acik-gorus/iraki-neler-bekliyor-haber-1729053/ (Date of access: 10.09.2022)

Duman, B. “Irak’ta Şiiler arasındaki çekişme derinleşiyor”, Rudaw, https://www.rudaw.net/turkish/opinion/22062022(Date of access: 10.09.2022)

Alaca, M. “Row over next Iraqi President: How to untie the knot?”, Mena Affairs, https://menaaffairs.com/row-over-next-iraqi-president-how-to-untie-the-knot/ (Date of access:10.09.2022)

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