Middle East

Iraqi Elections: Seven years on what has changed?

The Iraqi Parliamentary election is being heralded as a successful conclusion to another American inspired project of regime change and nation building. The US has gone to some lengths to prove that Iraq is now ‘mission accomplished’ and with the upcoming parliamentary elections on March 7th the US is contemplating the withdrawal of its troops. The introduction of democracy has become axiomatic to the discussion of how the developing world, and especially the Islamic world, will provide stability and prosperity for its suffering millions.

For America Iraq is another successful conclusion to America’s track record of successful nation building. For the US Iraq is its 21st century Japan and Germany.  Both nations were defeated in World War 2, and systematically deconstructed, with the past ideologies replaced with democratic institutions.

How the US has reached the current situation where an election can take place is central to understanding the future in store for the Muslim of Iraq.


The neoconservatives who built the case for war against Iraq expected a quick and decisive victory. The Iraqi army, armed mainly with Soviet-built equipment, was considered overall ill-equipped in the face of America’s superior fire power. For the Neocon’s this was their first project since the infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was set up, that advocated the use of military force to spread democracy around the world.

Whilst March 2003 is considered the date when nearly 300 000 foreign troops began the invasion of Iraq, in 2002 the US had already made contact with commanders of several Iraqi military divisions through the US military’s elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the CIA’s Special Activities Division. These efforts consisted of persuading them to surrender rather than oppose the invasion, and to identify all of the key leadership targets. Their efforts also included the arming of 70 000 Kurdish militia, who would eventually defeat the Iraqi army in the north of Iraq. The Iraqi National Congress opposition group, led by Ahmed Chalabi was deployed to southern Iraq. When Turkey refused to house US troops for the invasion the US dropped several thousand paratroopers into northern Iraq.

In April 2003 Baghdad fell. US forces seized the deserted Ba’ath Party ministries and stage-managed the tearing down of the iron statue of Saddam Hussein, an event that became symbolic of the invasion. By May 2003 George W Bush had delivered his ‘mission accomplished speech on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

By June 2003 the US with the other nations that invaded Iraq created the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as a transitional government of Iraq until the establishment of a democratic government. The CPA was originally headed by Jay Garner, a former US military officer, but his appointment lasted only until May 2003 when President Bush appointed Paul Bremer. Bremer served until the CPA’s dissolution in July 2004.

Another group created by the multinational force in post-invasion Iraq was the 1,400-member international Iraq Survey Group who conducted a fact-finding mission to find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. By 2004 the ISG’s Duelfer Report stated that Iraq did not have a viable WMD program.

Whilst there was a huge build up of troops for the initial invasion, once Baghdad fell, many were withdrawn. The US and its colonialist partners defeated Iraq’s conventional forces and occupied Iraq after just 21 days, the irregular and unconventional forces however would prove to be America’s achilles heel.


Within a few months of the invasion, the US very quickly became marred in an insurgency that today has greatly affected US prowess around the world. Evan Kohlmann, a leading expert on the insurgency outlined its beginnings “When the US invasion began in 2003, it was mainly Baathists, ex-Iraqi military, and Saddam loyalists. They were Iraqi nationalists, opposed to foreign occupation, who saw Iraq as a competitor with Egypt for the control of the Arab world. It was an issue of national pride. Video recordings and communiqués were coming out from everybody who had an AK-47. But as the war dragged on, some of these groups started coalescing; others were destroyed. Only the strongest, the most hardcore, the best financed, the people with the most training, survived, despite air strikes and the arrest of their senior leaders by the U.S. military.”

The first time the term ‘insurgents’ was used, was to describe Iraqi civilian actions in Fallujah in April 2004 when a Blackwater USA convoy led by four US private military contractors was ambushed. Four armed contractors, were killed with grenades and small arms fire. Subsequently, their bodies were dragged from their vehicles by local people, beaten, set ablaze, and their burned corpses hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.

The Shi’ah Mahdi Army also began launching attacks on coalition targets in an attempt to seize control of territory. The Southern and Central portions of Iraq were beginning to erupt in urban guerrilla combat as multinational forces attempted to keep control and prepared for a counteroffensive. Many from Iraq joined Muqtada al-Sadr. The Mahdi Army area of operation stretched from Basra in the south to the Sadr City section of Baghdad in Central Iraq. Similarly from amongst the Sunni’s many took up arms leading to an insurgency against the occupation, which was headed on one front by former Ba’athists and on the other by tribal leaders who reportedly received support through money and arms form Muslims across the region. 

Whilst the insurgency targeted the US and coalition troops the militias, which was largely Shi’ah driven, turned against many of the Sunni groups. The Sunnis boycotted the Americas election process in 2005, objecting to the occupation of Iraq, whilst the major Shi’ah parties decided to work with the US. By 2006 it became very obvious that the US was benefiting from the actions of the militia which was aimed at other Muslims, as the counteroffensive that had derailed US ambitions was beginning to turn on itself.


By 2005 the US was well and truly drowning in Iraq and comparisons were being made with Vietnam. It became clear to all that the US had massively underestimated the enemy and whilst it had rapidly removed Iraq’s conventional forces the unconventional elements in Iraq had brought the US army to a stalemate where the US was never going to win the war, but was not prepared to lose.

It was here the US began discussing selective engagement with Iran. Whilst the Baker-Hamilton report to congress in 2006 contained such a proposition, engagement with Iran had already begun, in order to contain the insurgency.

Iran initiated its proxy the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) a group created in Tehran with full backing in 1982. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim its supreme leader until his death in 2009, gathered the major Shi’ah factions to partake in Iraq’s government, this left the US with an insurgency around Baghdad to only contend with. Rapprochement between both Iran and the US was confirmed by Ahmadinejad, in his interview with the New York Times during his visit to the United Nations Summit in September 2008: “Iran has extended its hand of cooperation to the United States on the issue of Afghanistan…and our country has given assistance to the US in restoring peace and stability in Iraq.” The US through promises of positions in government, bribes and rewards managed to co-opt many of the Shi’ah factions give up violence and take part in the American constructed political setup. The role of Iran was outlined by an Iraqi official at the time “There is no doubt the Iranians have recently applied influence and leverage over Jaish al-Mahdi to contain and limit its operations inside Iraq,” Barham Salih said in an interview to IPS. “This is a welcome sign. But I’ll be very frank with you: the very fact that Iran can turn on and off the activities of Jaish al-Mahdi is one of concern to me as an Iraqi official.”

The US also enlisted the help of Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the highest-ranking Shi’a Marja in Iraq. Sistani issued a fatwa calling on Shi’ah imams to get involved in politics, he also demanded a direct vote for the purpose of forming a transitional government. Leading up to the January 2005 elections for a transitional government, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani helped bring Sadr, SCIRI, Da’wa, and other Shi’ah parties together under the so-called United Iraqi Alliance. In this way the US managed to stem the insurgency in the South of Iraq, in the North the Kurdish factions welcomed US intervention in Iraq, this left the US to face an insurgency in central Iraq, led by the minority Sunni’s.

In this way the US managed to take the bite out of the insurgency, they brought it to a more manageable level, but the resultant landscape the US constructed has caused factionalisation in Iraq.

The US made various deals to establish its political solution in Iraq, but it has only remained intact due to over 100 000 US personnel being present in Iraq and with Iranian proxies partaking in Iraq’s central government.


The democratic parliament and legislative assembly the US set up in Iraq is being trumpeted as ‘mission accomplished.’ Under the guise of democracy the US has constructed a tenuous agreement with some of the Shi’ah factions in Iraq, which will turn the nation into a factional state with a everlasting factional infighting becoming a permanent state of affairs. 

Iraq’s first parliamentary elections in 2005 institutionalised sectarian and ethnic differences. In this way the US could always rely on support from different groups within Iraq who will remain divided and will always cut deals with the US in return for promises of power. Parliament was split between the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) led by the SCIRI and the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (DPAK). This precarious settlement between these two groups meant Sunni resistance was contained and the US argued the elections had credibility due to their participation.

Even before the 7th March 2010 elections, sectarian rivalry has raised its ugly head. The Shi’ah coalitions that fought the 2005 elections have now tuned onto each other in order to protect their own interests and ensure they play an important role in the post election set up. Muqtada as-Sadr formed the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) which includes influential Shi’ah parties such as the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), the Badr Brigade, the Sadrists, ex-prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the Fadila Party. But more importantly leaves out the current Prime Minister Nouri al Malaki.

As a result Maliki constructed a 40-party coalition headed by him that includes almost all of his ministers, including the powerful Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, in the State of Law Alliance (SoL). The State of Law coalition unseated top Shi’ah parties, including the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (ISCI), in many provinces during the local elections. The Shi’ah parties came together on a fragile US created coalition – the United Iraqi Alliance – but the parties in the coalition competed for power in the local elections.

Malaki has attempted to gain the votes of the Shi’ah through the barring of politicians that have apparent ties to the outlawed Ba’ath Party once run by Saddam Hussein. A US commission was established in 2003 to enforce a constitutional mandate that forbids Ba’athists from taking part in politics. Many of the politicians the commission has recommended to ban, however, belong to Sunni and secular parties that are challenging the ruling Shi’ah blocs for seats in parliament. However in true pragmatic style, Malaki has concluded his support amongst the Shi’ah has waned he has decided 20,000 Iraqi army officers who were dismissed from their posts after the 2003 invasion for serving under Saddam Hussein are to be reinstated.


In reality the US has replaced a brutal system in Iraq, which was headed by a dictator that the US for long propped up, with a corrupt system that recognises the ethnic and sectarian breakdown of Iraq. This will keep Iraq divided forever and as the jockeying for the March 7th elections has shown democracy has created fertile ground for polarised politics instead of dictatorial politics.

Democracy rather than solve nationalism, tribalism or sectarianism, in reality recognises such corruption and incorporates it into a system of parliamentary politics allowing various factions to fight and jockey for their petty interests. This means in the long run violence will continue as a means to settle ethnic differences – which would suit the US as an acceptable level of chaos and violence justifies continued US interference.

Without Iranian support, Iraq would have become America’s new Vietnam. Whilst on the surface Iran-US relations appear to be strained as the US continues to ratchet up the nuclear enrichment issue whenever it suits them, both nations behind the scenes view each other through another lens. Both Iran and the US have the same interests in the region and have worked together in Afghanistan for some time. Iran could have brought the US to its knees, but its pragmatic rulers have turned out to be no different the other rulers in the Muslim world who have betrayed the Ummah time and time again.

After 7 years since the invasion began to topple Saddam Hussein, in reality all that has changed is a corrupt one man system the West nurtured has been replaced by a multi party system which has the same narrow view towards the nation and politics, looking after there own ethnic sectarian interests. For the US this is the liberation it has brought to Iraq.