Will Iraq’s Gridlocked Parliament Finally Elect a President?
The Council of Representatives of Iraq, the country’s beleaguered parliament, will meet on Thursday to elect a new president.
The Council of Representatives of Iraq, the country’s beleaguered parliament, will meet on Thursday to elect a new president, according to the office of Iraqi parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi—a move that could end Iraq’s year-long political deadlock, restore public functions, and move the country away from the precipice of civil war if successful.
Halbousi’s office announced on Tuesday that the parliament would convene for an extraordinary session with “a single item on the agenda, the election of the President of the Republic.” The session appears to be the fourth within the year to elect a new president; Halbousi convened a series of three meetings with the same objective from February 7 to March 30, but the parliament failed to agree on a successor to the incumbent president, Barham Salih, on each occasion.
The failure to choose a president lies at the heart of Iraq’s current political deadlock. Following the country’s most recent elections in October 2021, the Sadrist Movement of influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gained 73 out of 329 seats, making it the largest faction within the Council of Representatives and giving it a majority after it formed alliances with sympathetic Sunni and Kurdish parties. However, according to Iraq’s constitution, the president must be chosen with two-thirds of the parliament, meaning that a broad consensus is required for the appointment—a consensus that the minority faction within parliament, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, was able to block. Because the president chooses the prime minister and formally opens the government, Iraqi politics effectively froze with the deadlock on the presidential appointment.
In an effort to break the deadlock, all seventy-three members of the Sadrist Movement resigned from office in June, hoping to trigger new elections. However, instead of holding new elections, the Coordination Framework attempted to press ahead without the Sadrists and form a sympathetic government, leading to street protests and the storming of the parliament building. In August, Sadr announced that he would quit politics and dissolve the Sadrist Movement, leading to a massive wave of protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Under Iraq’s confessional political system, the largely ceremonial presidency is informally reserved for a Kurd, while the prime minister is traditionally a Shia and the speaker of parliament a Sunni. Since 2003, the presidency has been held by members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but its opposition party within Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), received roughly twice as many votes in the 2021 election and has pushed for its own candidate. The two sides have not come to an agreement yet.
Although Iraq has gained a windfall from high oil prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the political deadlock has prevented it from passing a budget, limiting the government’s ability to spend it on infrastructure repairs and social programs.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.