Iraq’s new parliament holds its first session three months after voting

Nearly three months after Iraqis voted in the general election, the new Iraqi parliament held its first meeting. The result of the general election was questioned by the powerful factions backed by Iran.

This meeting may lead to long-term political battles between rival groups to choose a new president and prime minister.

Legislators from the Sadr clique arrived at the parliament building in Baghdad early and put on the white shroud that Muslims used to wrap the dead to show that they were willing to die for him. Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political leaders, became the biggest winner in the October 10 vote, winning 73 seats out of 329 seats in the parliament.

The pro-Iranian faction that claimed voter fraud lost about two-thirds of its seats — a major blow. Supporters of the armed group set up tents around the so-called “green zone” of the capital and sat in for more than two months, while they appealed to the Supreme Court of Iraq. The Green Zone is the seat of the Iraqi government and many foreign diplomatic missions.

Tensions culminated in November with an armed drone attempted to assassinate the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi—an attack that was blamed on groups allied with Iran. The Prime Minister is safe and sound.

The court rejected the appeal from the Iran-backed faction and approved the election results at the end of last month, clearing the way for the formation of a government.

Legislators are expected to elect a speaker and two representatives on Sunday. Then the parliament will have to elect a new president, and the president will have 15 days to appoint a prime minister nominated by the largest group to form a new government.

According to an unofficial agreement dating back to the US-led invasion in 2003, the Iraqi presidency—mainly a ceremonial role—was held by Kurds, while the prime minister was Shiite and the parliament speaker was Sunni.

The election was held several months in advance in response to large-scale protests at the end of 2019. Tens of thousands of people in Baghdad and the southern Shia-majority provinces held rallies against local corruption, poor service, and unemployment. They also protested against neighbouring Iran’s gross interference in Iraqi affairs through Iran-backed militias.

Independent candidates from the October 2019 protest movement ran under the Imtidad list and won nine seats. Some of them took a tuk-tuk from Tahrir Square, the center of the protest movement, to the parliament building. Colorful three-wheeled motorcycles transport demonstrators back and forth in the square, becoming a symbol of the protest movement.

Political analyst Hamzehdad said that due to the small size of the new constituency, the composition of the new parliament may help make elected officials more accountable to the public.

“With the election of many independents and new parties like the Imtidad movement, we can see the real opposition in Parliament for the first time,” he said. “This is what Iraqis want to see from the new legislature.”