The current situation in Iraq makes it unlikely for the election to follow its due course. The country is ridden with political wrangling, weak security situation, and foreign interference. The October protests in Iraq in 2020 led to the announcement of early elections in June this year. But in January, the Government decided to postpone elections till October 10th, ostensibly to buysome time for preparation. In the face of all this, the Biden administration has a role to play in conducting free and fairelections.
The U.S. must help establish a stable and more democratic, and independent Iraq. With so many political parties boycotting the elections, insecure political environment, weak security situation, and international actors’ meddling and conspiracies,Iraq has become a test case for the U.S. People are fed up of their corrupt leaders. The United States can help them by providing assistance to hold free and fair elections. In this way, the public can have their voices heard.
Rampant corruption and foreign meddling are the two foundational issues that prevent free and fair election in Iraq. Iraqi politicians and officials are notoriously corrupt. Since 2003, $150 billion of oil money has been smuggled out of Iraq. According to the Corruption Perception Index, currently Iraq ranks 160 out of 180 countries. Corruption in Iraq is systematic and politically sanctioned. It is sustained through assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence by armed militias. These groups are then backed by powerful political leaders.
Given the current situation, many political parties have announced boycotting the elections. They have cited lack of transparency and reliability for their decision. Most of the boycotting parties are the ones that demanded early elections in the first place.
Furthermore, the role of foreign proxies is another stumbling block in conducting elections. Iraq has been a battleground for proxies of neighboring countries, in particular Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. As long as these countries are presenton Iraqi soil, domestic political stability is hard to achieve.
In this regard, Iran has been very influential in Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussain. Iran has used its proxies in Iraq to expand its influence and oust US forces. Moreover, the assassination of General Qassim Soleimani in Iraq further strained US-Iran relations, which took its toll on the people of Iraq.
On the other hand, Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish targets in the Northern Iraq also adds to instability. Turkey aims to increase its influence in Northern and other parts of Iraq. This can result in disturbance of the status quo. Iran and Turkey can end up in a proxy war in Iraq.
Thus, for the Biden administration the challenge lies in resolving the issues of foreign interference and internal security. Security threats from armed militia within Iraq require particular consideration. The US must continue to provide assistance and training to Iraqi Security Forces to counter these threats.
As regards foreign interference in Iraq, an important step that the U.S. can take is using diplomatic channels with regional allies to prevent destabilizing activities therein. Particularly, negotiations with Iran have the potential to be rewarding. Likewise, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the other Gulf States can be involved to negotiate a regional approach for a stable Iraq. The two most powerful GCC states, i.e. UAE and Saudi Arabia have already shown flexibility to win Biden Administration’s trust. The U.S could use this flexibility in the demeanor of the Gulf states to bring about stability in Iraq.
Elections are an important mechanism for democracy. However,if the same are conducted in an unfair environment, then itperpetuates corruption and destruction of a society. Iraq is atcrossroads at the moment. With current activities within the state, it is hard to perceive free and fair elections. The US must endeavor to stabilize Iraq by assisting the Iraqi authorities and engaging regional players in dialogue. Only a stable Iraq canlead to stable Middle East.
Senior intelligence analyst and Former Kurdistan Regional Government Deputy Representative to US, holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science and History.