Iraq Elects New President, Ending Year-Long Political Crisis

Iraq Elects New President, Ending Year-Long Political Crisis

The election, coming after one year of political gridlock and a wave of political violence in August, may allow for a return to some form of stability.

Lawmakers in Iraq elected Abdul Latif Rashid, a Kurdish politician from the country’s north and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, as Iraq’s next president—choosing him over incumbent President Barham Salih by a wide margin and setting the stage for the end to Iraq’s seemingly intractable year-long political crisis.

Rashid replaced Salih, another Kurd associated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), with immediate effect. The new president received 162 votes within the country’s parliament, while Salih received ninety-nine. Under Iraq’s confessional political system, Iraq’s presidency is reserved for a Kurd, while the prime minister must be a Shia Muslim and the speaker of parliament must be a Sunni.

Although Iraq’s presidency is largely ceremonial and the prime minister is the country’s head of government, the president formally nominates the prime minister, who is then confirmed by the parliament. Almost immediately after he took office, Rashid designated Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, a former provincial governor and human rights minister associated with the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, as prime minister; incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will continue in office until al-Sudani successfully forms a government and receives parliamentary approval.

Iraq’s present political crisis began one year ago in October 2021, when the Sadrist Movement led by influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won a plurality of parliamentary seats in Iraq’s general election. However, because the president must be chosen with a two-thirds majority in Parliament under Iraq’s constitution, the Coordination Framework was able to obstruct Sadr’s efforts, effectively shutting down the Iraqi government and preventing it from carrying out everyday functions such as social services and infrastructure repair.

Sadr’s adherents attempted to break the deadlock in June by simultaneously resigning from office, hoping the move would trigger new elections, but the Coordination Framework pushed instead to appoint its own president in the Sadrists’ absence. As it entered into negotiations with other factions in the parliament, however, the Sadrists launched a series of street protests and repeatedly stormed government buildings inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, culminating in a wave of violence in August after Sadr announced his retirement from politics.

Rashid’s election to the presidency, and the subsequent formation of a Coordination Framework-led government, could mark the end of the crisis and allow the Iraqi government to resume its activities—including the passage of a government budget, which has remained unresolved throughout the crisis. However, the new government will likely continue to face some opposition among the Iraqi public, where Sadr and other opposition leaders maintain a significant following. 

Before the vote on Wednesday, an unidentified group fired at least nine rockets at the parliament building—an attack that led to condemnation from the Iraqi government and much of the Western world. 

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters