Iraqi elections: crafting a democracy?


Credit: WINEP

When Iraq’s national elections open on May 12, they will mark a shift away from the large ethnic and sectarian blocs seen on previous ballots, with candidates more attuned to the demands of the wider body politic, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes:

Yet the results could work against Iraqi and American national interests if pressing issues are left to fester, including ongoing refugee problems, reconstruction delays in certain electoral districts, Shia militia intrusion into politics, growing Iranian influence on the ground, and unresolved disputes with the Kurds.*

Due to both overwhelming geostrategic pressures and the fragility of internal structures, it is unlikely that the elections will be a tipping point in the quest for a genuine and lasting democracy, argues Middle East Institute analyst Hassan Mneimneh. Despite the continued prevalence of factionalism, corruption and risk of terrorism, the persistence of discussions about development, independence, rule of law and an inclusive national identity is cause for hope.

The United States should focus its efforts in Iraq on sustained engagement and stabilizing competition to ensure that the country develops after the territorial defeat of ISIL, argues the University of Vermonts Peter S. Henne. The U.S. should implement political capacity-building programs to enable religious minorities to engage in the political process, he writes in a new report from the Center for American Progress:

The National Endowment for Democracy and the State Department have provided funding for capacity-building programs, which train civil society to engage in the political process. Both offices should direct funding and personnel to Iraqi religious minorities to ensure that they have the tools to interact with other communities and advocate for their interests.

Iraq is an example of a fragile states in which democracy can be coaxed, not rushed, Bloomberg suggests, citing a new report on “state fragility, growth and development”:

External players interested in stabilizing a fragile country should be more interested in the indigenous version of checks and balances, in mechanisms to build national cohesion rather than in a rush to representative democracy as practiced in the West.

“Shared identity needs to supplant identities that are fragmented,” the report says.

Losing control of his campaign narratives, Iraq’s incumbent prime minister is facing questions about his credentials on nationalism, security, and public services, analyst Kirk H. Sowell writes for Carnegie’s Sada Journal.

Given the events that followed the Kurdish referendum in September 2017, the issue of disputed territories in Northern Iraq and related energy revenue-sharing disagreements will also fall to the new government to address, The Atlantic Council adds.**

*To discuss these issues, The Washington Institute is pleased to host a late-afternoon Policy Forum with…..

  • Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, led election-monitoring and fact-finding teams in Iraq between 2009 and 2014.
  • Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute, has worked in all of Iraq’s provinces and covered all of its elections since 2005.
  • Phillip Smyth is a Soref Fellow at the Institute and author of its study The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.
  • Bilal Wahab is the Institute’s Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow, focusing on governance in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Previously, he established the Center for Development and Natural Resources at the American University of Iraq.

THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018. 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM This event will be held at The Washington Institute, 1111 19th Street NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20036. It will also be broadcast live on the WINEP website. To register use this ONLINE EVENT REGISTRATION FORM

**The Atlantic Council invites you for a discussion with a panel of experts on likely post-election dynamics, political alliances to form a new government we may see emerge, political and constitutional reforms the next government needs to adopt, and how the election may impact US-Iraq relations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018. 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor (West Tower Elevator), Washington, DC.


  • Ambassador Feisal al-Istrabadi, Founding Director, Center for the Study of the Middle East, Indiana University – Bloomington.
  • Ambassador Rend al-Rahim, Co-Founder and President, Iraq Foundation.
  • Dr. Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council.
  • Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Visiting Lecturer and Diplomat-in-Residence. Princeton University.


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