What is a governorate?
After an entire decade, Iraq is preparing to conduct a new set of elections on the 18th of December to determine the members of the nation’s governorate councils among 15 of the 19 governorates – excluding those under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north of the country.
Governorate councils are an important factor in the day-to-day administration of the country, providing a way for citizens of each governorate to push for local changes instead of going through the sometimes slow and inefficient Parliament.
Governorate councils are seen as useless by many Iraqis today, but they are granted constitutional powers that allow them greater autonomy in Iraq’s semi-devolved provincial system. For example, Diyala’s council voted with a Sunni-Kurdish majority to declare the governorate semi-autonomous in a move to break away from Baghdad during the unrest of the Arab spring in 2011.
Governorate elections also serve as an indicator of a party’s or factions popularity ahead of the next Parliamentary elections, as well as each faction’s position, alliances and rivals in interests.
According to electoral law, each governorate is treated as one unified constituency, with 12 seats in its council as a standard, and one additional seat granted for each 200,000 residents above 1,000,000. Iraq’s Parliament voted in favour of a new election law earlier this year, setting proportional voting using the Sainte-Laguë method (with a divisor of 1.7) as the new electoral system for these elections.
As the confusing political alliances of Iraq have shifted since the October 2021 elections, and that alliances within each governorate naturally differ from national parliamentary coalitions, Asia Elects’ previous articles on the political alliances of Iraq may not apply to these elections. This article will provide a brief introduction to the major coalitions and alliances competing in these elections.
The Shia House
Despite uniting to oppose Sadr’s violent takeover attempt in the previous year, and forming a government under a unified “Coordinative Frame”, the opposing and contradictory Shia parties have naturally gone their own ways in these elections, each trying to gain more power than the others to tip the balance in their favour. However, all of the Shia parties nominally support the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani as part of the Coordinative Frame.
Some of the most prominent Shia parties and alliances in these elections are:
State of Law Coalition
Long-time supporters of former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, this coalition has been active in Iraqi politics since 2009. Formed with the Da’wa Islamic Party as its main component, the State of Law coalition gave birth to many new factions and parties that split off to oppose it, such as the Victory Party of former Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The alliance aims to reinstate the influence Nouri Al Maliki had on local bureaucracy and governments during his long tenure (2006-2014). The alliance officially espouses Islamism as its official doctrine.
Nabny (We Build) Alliance
Supporters of the Popular Mobilization Forces and its associated paramilitaries, Nabny is led by the commander of the Iran-backed Badr brigades. The alliance includes multiple other paramilitary forces with loyalties to Iran such as the Asa’ib Ahl Al Haqq (Bands of the Righteous). It is considered the provincial version of the Parliamentary Fatah (Conquest) Alliance that represented these factions during the October 2021 elections.
Patriotic State Forces Alliance
An alliance between the Victory Party of former Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi and The Wisdom Movement of Shia Cleric Ammar Al Hakim, two figures considered Islamist moderates as opposed to the more radical Shia parties. This alliance also participated in the 2021 October elections, where it gained only 4 seats. It lacks a large base of loyal supporters like other coalitions.
Al Asas (Foundation) Alliance
Led by the first deputy of the Speaker of Parliament, Muhsin Al Mandalawi, the alliance presents itself as a civilian coalition of secular politicians, including some rising figures in Iraqi politics like member of Parliament Mustafa Sanad and other independents. However, the alliance has been linked to Iraqi Hezbollah commander Abu Fadak and accused of supporting Iranian influence. It has not helped the alliance’s civilian image that members of the alliance like Mustafa Sanad publicly disavowed secular governance in TV interviews. This alliance is relatively new, with no real base of support formed as of yet.
The Sunni House
The unified “Sovereignty Alliance” that once led the Sunni component of Iraq in the aftermath of the Sadrist coup d’etat has fractured into multiple pieces. Its two main components, Halbousi’s Progress Party and Khanjar’s Azm, have themselves been broken up into smaller factions, threatening the political prospects of a Sunni project in Iraq.
The most prominent Sunni political alliances are:
Taqadum (Progress) Party
Led by former speaker of parliament Mohammed Al Halbousi, the party was successful in getting most of the votes and seats of the Sunni population in the 2021 elections, beating their Sunni rivals Azm and electing Halbousi as Speaker of Parliament. The party has seen recent defeats, where Halbousi has been impeached as speaker by the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq for charges of forgery, levied against him by a Taqadum MP for forcing him to resign earlier in 2022. The party’s main base of support is from the Sunnis of Al Anbar governorate, and hopes that the governorate elections will provide much needed reassurance of its position as the main Sunni force in the country.
Azm (Determination) Alliance
Previously led by Halbousi’s main rival, Khamis Al Khanjar, since his ousting the party has since been overtaken by his former confidant, Muthanna Al Samara’i. The party still view themselves as rivals to Taqadum, and they hope to overtake them as the main Sunni power with their bases of support in Saladin and Diyala governorates.
Siyada (Sovereignty) Alliance
Al Khanjar’s new coalition, with the same name as the defunct Pan-Sunni alliance between Khanjar’s Azm and Taqadum. Khamis Al Khanjar is trying to get back onto the Sunni political stage through the governorate elections. The Alliance hopes to win back support of Sunnis in Diyala and Saladin governorates from Azm.
Al Hasm (Decisiveness) Alliance
Formed earlier this year by old guard Sunni establishment politicians that have lost a lot of power to the newcomers of Taqadum, Al Hasm includes political elites with an abundance of funds and influence such as Jamal Al Karbouli along with former speaker of parliament Osama Al Nujaifi. The party hopes to reestablish the influence of the Sunni old guard, with its base of support lying in the city of Mosul, from where Nujaifi hails.
The Kurdish House
The four governorates under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, Erbil, Suleymaniah, Dohuk and Halabja, will not participate in the governorate elections in December, as the Federal Supreme Court disbanded their governorate councils recently. Instead, the Kurds will hold their elections in February of 2024. However, Kurdish parties like the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party will continue to campaign for support in non-KRG governorates with Kurdish minorities (such as Diyala, Wasit, Kerkuk and Nineveh). They are unlikely to be a serious force anywhere else in these elections.
ndependent and Secular parties rejecting sectarian divides have been present in Iraqi politics since anyone can remember, but they have gained prominence after the October 2019 protests. Many new movements formed out of these protests, and some of them gained entry into parliament in 2021. However, most of these parties still remain unknown, with the exception of the Qiyam (Principles) Alliance, the second largest by sheer number of candidates.
Qiyam is led by the Iraqi Communist Party, and includes many secular and non-sectarian movements such as the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Democratic Current, Nazl Akhith Haqqi (Coming to Take my Right) Movement and many more. Qiyam has presented more than 400 candidates throughout the nation, bypassing sectarian and ethnic divides. The alliance has repeatdly stated that it will push for political reform and change through electoralism, support for the democratic process, and an end to paramilitary violence. It has also promised to bring justice to the families of the martyrs of the 2019 protests, refusing to collude or ally with any parties from the former Coordinative Frame.
Muqtada Al Sadr, leader of the Sadrist Movement, has decided to boycott all political activity ever since his failed coup d’etat in the previous year, including the governorate elections. This boycott has resulted in his supporters refusing to participate in the elections at all, burning their election IDs and taking down any posters advertising election participation or any of the candidates in Sadrist strongholds, such as Sadr city and parts of Najaf where Sadr lives.
Sadr serves as a wildcard, festering anxiety in the Iraqi Shia establishment and the Coordinative Frame as they fear him mobilising his supporters in demonstrations to disrupt the electoral process, or even potentially attempt another violent takeover on the eve of the elections. As a result, the military has been mobilised to set up checkpoints and security measures on the day of the election, as well as the days before and after it, to ensure a smooth electoral process.