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'Defining moment': Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections

Cars drive in front of electoral billboards of candidates for parliamentary elections, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, on October 9, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Iraqi people have voted in parliamentary elections, which are held earlier than their original 2022 schedule in response to the public demands for economic reforms.

Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) on Sunday, and were due to close at 6:00 p.m.

More than 25 million citizens are eligible to vote. Voters presented a biometric card for what was conceived as a fully electronic voting process. However, some had not received the cards and authorities said provisions had been made to ensure they were not excluded.

A total of 329 seats are up for grabs in the election. More than 3,240 candidates are in the running, including 950 women.

One-quarter of the seats are reserved for female candidates, and nine for minorities including Christians and Izadis.

The elections were originally planned to be held in 2022, but the date was brought forward in response to a mass protest movement that broke out in 2019 to call for economic reforms, better public services, and an effective fight against unemployment and corruption in state institution.

The vote is also taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies, another demand of the protesters, and allows for more independent candidates.

Around 600 international observers, including 150 from the United Nations, are monitoring the voting process.

“Iraqis should have the confidence to vote as they please, in an environment free of pressure, intimidation and threats,” the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said ahead of the polls.

Security forces, prisoners and those displaced by Daesh’s terror campaign voted in special early polls Friday, head of the countrywide general election.

The voting is underway under tight security, with all airports closed from Saturday evening to dawn on Monday across Iraq.

The rivals

The biggest bloc Sairoon, with 54 seats in the last assembly, is led by influential Shia Muslim scholar Muqtada al-Sadr. It is expected to strengthen its hold in parliament after scoring big in the 2018 elections.

Other major players are the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance led by Hadi al-Ameri, who also heads the Badr Organization, one of the factions of the anti-terror Hashd al-Sha’abi – now integrated into regular Iraqi armed forces, and a political movement called “Harakat Huqooq”. It is close to the Hezbollah Brigades, another group under operating under the command of Hashd al-Sha’abi.

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who led Iraq from 2006 to 2014, heads the State of Law Alliance.

The Alliance of State Forces brings together factions aligned to former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who led the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq from 2009 to 2017.

Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, leads the Taqaddum (Progress) movement.  It is an umbrella body for several Sunni parties, politicians, and tribal leaders from Baghdad and other provinces in the west and north of the country.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are also the two major Kurdish political factions in the elections.

‘A defining moment for Iraq’

Iraqi officials and religious leaders have been encouraging people for a large turnout in the election.

Iraq’s top cleric and a widely respected authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for a large turnout, saying that voting remains the best way for Iraqis to take part in shaping their country’s future.

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Saturday said he believed a good turnout would be a “turning point” and a “defining moment.”

“It will close the road to saboteurs and to those who try to manipulate the fate of the country and the future of its people,” Salih stated.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi's political future hangs in the balance, with few observers willing to predict who will come out on top.

Iraqi elections are often followed by months of protracted negotiations over a president, a prime minister and a cabinet.

Security forces drove through the streets of Baghdad on Saturday, with loud speakers encouraging voters to cast their votes in Sunday’s general election.

“Voting leads to the achievement of your demands,” a recording blasting from the vehicle speakers said.

Hashd Sha’abi urges all Iraqi people to vote

Meanwhile, Hashd al-Sha’abi called on Iraqis from all ethnic groups to respond to Ayatollah Sistani's call to participate in the elections. 

“We are on the verge of a democratic move, which Iraqis can be proud of once compared to other regional peoples that are still deprived of their basic rights, including the right to elect their representatives in the government. Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters, along with their brethren in Iraqi security and military forces, seek to safeguard security nationwide,” it said in a statement on Saturday.

“On the eve of the elections, Hashd al-Sha’abi forces have been deployed across Iraq, and are in full coordination with other forces in Diyala, Nineveh, Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Anbar provinces as well as the capital Baghdad. They have carried out a pre-emptive operation, arresting a number of terrorists, disbanding several terror cells and uncovering militant hideouts,” the statement added.

“In order to ensure the security of parliamentary polls, the command center of Hasd al-Sha’abi declares that it will raise the level of alertness among its forces and the measure will take effect as of 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Saturday and will end at 5 a.m. on Monday,” it said.

“On this great occasion, we demand the entire honorable Iraqi nation, who supported Hashd al-Sha’abi in their historic battles against terrorist groups, not to be swayed by rumors and misleading propaganda that try to lower participation” in the polls, the statement read.

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