Iraq holds its first parliamentary election on Saturday since defeating ISIS, but few people expect its new leaders to deliver the stability and economic prosperity that have long been promised, Reuters reported.
The oil producer has been struggling to find a formula for stability since a U.S.-led invasion toppled former President Saddam Hussein in 2003, and politics has brought only disappointment to most Iraqis.
The three main ethnic and religious groups — the majority Shi’ite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs and Kurds — have been at odds for decades, and the sectarian divisions remain as deep as ever.
Iraqis seem to have little faith that a new parliament will be any more able to tackle their country’s numerous challenges.
Much of the northern city of Mosul was reduced to rubble in fighting to oust ISIS, and it will require billions of dollars to rebuild. The economy is stagnant. Sectarian tensions, which erupted into 2006-2007, are still a major security threat. And Iraq’s two main backers, Washington and Tehran, are at loggerheads.
“I will participate but I will mark an ‘X’ on my ballot. There is no security, no jobs, no services. Candidates are just looking to line up their pockets, not to help people,” said Jamal Mowasawi, a 61-year-old butcher.
Incumbent prime minister Haider al-Abadi is considered by analysts to be marginally ahead, but victory is far from certain.
Once seen as ineffective, he improved his standing with the victory against ISIS, which had occupied a third of Iraq.
But he lacks charisma and has failed to improve the economy. He also cannot rely solely on votes from his community as the Shi’ite voter base is unusually split this year. Instead, he is looking to draw support from other groups.
Even if Abadi’s Victory Alliance list wins the most seats, he still has to navigate the long-winded and complicated backroom negotiations required to form a coalition government.
His two main challengers, also Shi’ites, are his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia commander Hadi al-Amiri.
Amiri spent more than two decades fighting Saddam from exile in Iran. The 63-year-old leads the Badr Organisation, which was the backbone of the volunteer forces that fought ISIS.
He hopes to capitalize on his battlefield successes. Victory for Amiri would be a win for Iran, which is locked in proxy wars for influence across the Middle East.