From 1979 until 2003 Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party ruled the country. It was a secular, but Sunni-dominated regime. In 2003 Saddam Hussein was overthrown when the US-led coalition invaded the country. Hussein was executed in 2006. In April 2014 parliamentary elections were held in Iraq. Haydar al-Abadi became the new Prime Minister and formed a government in September that year. One of the new government’s main aims was to re-establish security in the country. Subsequent governments were, however, unable to provide security in the country. In 2014 and 2015 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control over large parts of Iraq. In the aftermath of the ISIS conflict, parliamentary elections were surprisingly won by the Shia cleric Sadr and his reform coalition. In 2019, protest erupted in the capital and soon in more cities. The protest movement called for a complete overhaul of the Shiite-dominated regime and demanded sovereignty, independence and clean government. It was brutally repressed.
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- 38,433,600 million (World Bank 2018 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Islamic Democratic Federal Republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Foward, Fatah Alliance, KDP, National Coalition, Wisdom, Reform
- Last Elections:
- May 2018 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2020 (governorates elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
Iraq gained independence in 1932, after being a League of Nations mandate under British administration since 1920. The coup d’état in 1958 led to an end of the monarchy and a republic was established. From 1979 to 2003 the country was ruled by President Saddam Hussein. Until 2003 Iraq remained a de facto Arab nationalist and socialist one-party state. In 2003 the government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the US-led invasion. The United States claimed they invaded the country because of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, and secondly to introduce democracy. These weapons of destruction were never found, however. Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces in December 2003, and executed by an Iraqi military court in 2006. His party, the Baath Party, was dissolved. Many Baathists, such as the former army and intelligence officers, later joined IS and have reportedly played a significant part in its rise.
In 2013 the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a Sunni Arab rebellious group that was formed following a merger of different Iraqi insurgent groups, started expanding rapidly to parts outside Iraq. The group adopted the name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2013 and proclaimed itself an Islamic State (IS) in January 2014. The militant group has spread over central and northern Iraq and Syria, leaving a trail of death and destruction. In response to this threat, a US-led coalition of regional and Western powers started a campaign of airstrikes in 2014. ISIS was defeated over several years. Leaving a country devastated behind. Iraq is plagued by sectarian violence, corruption and political infight.
Mass demonstrations erupted in Baghdad on the 1st of October and rapidly spread to every major city in Southern Iraq. Dominated by young people (almost 3 in 5 Iraqi’s are under 25) the protesters are overwhelmingly Shiites. But since the beginning, these protesters have called for a complete overhaul of the Shiite-dominated regime that has ruled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein, charging it with being corrupt, incompetent, and fatally infected by sectarianism, Islamism and Iranian penetration. The demands of the protest movement were also clear: sovereignty, independence and clean government.
Instead of starting a conversation with the protest movement and initiate reform, the government almost immediately chose the path of brutal repression. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed, abducted, tortured or disappeared. Around 20,000 have been injured. Iraq’s political elite has been mostly silent about the suppression of the protesters. Few spoke out and joined.
In 1974, the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq was granted limited autonomy by the Iraqi government. However, Iraq continuously tried to get control of the area by military interventions up until 1991, after which a no-fly zone was established above the area in 1991. One year later, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was formed by the Kurdistan National Assembly. Iraqi Kurdistan consists of the governorates of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Duhok and Halabja.
A period of fragile peace started after the no-fly zone was introduced. The Kurdish people started to rebuild their society creating a parliamentary democracy. The main political parties – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) worked together during the 1990s. However, power-sharing arrangements between the two failed, erupting into a civil war from 1994 to 1997. The election in 1996 resulted in the creation of two separate Kurdish states: one state-based in Sulaymaniyah controlled by the PUK, while the other state-based in Erbil and controlled by the KDP. In 2005, Iraq officially recognized the autonomous Kurdistan Region by a referendum. The two administrations were unified into one government and the Kurdish parliament established the Kurdistan Region Presidency (KRP) as an institution. Masoud Barzani was elected as the first President of Iraqi Kurdistan in January 2005 and was re-elected in 2009.
Kurdistan suffered from the ISIS advancement in Northern Iraq from 2014 on. Barzani’s term was prolonged during the war. The Peshmerga proved to be an effective force against the rapid advance of ISIS. The Kurdish government reconquered lost territory and even consolidated non-Kurdish territory in Iraq. In the political and military vacuum that existed in Nothern Iraq in the aftermath of the ISIS conflict, Barzani called for an independence referendum. Although the central government in Bagdad didn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the referendum, the Kurdish government went ahead with a vote in September 2017. An overwhelming majority of 92.73% voted for independence. Barzani was however hesitant to declare Kurdistan independent. No country supported the referendum. In the meantime, Bagdad started a military offensive to reclaim the non-Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq. Barzani eventually resigned as president. Leaving the independence movement without a direction and the region without a president until regional elections in late 2018.
According to the constitution of 2005 Iraq is a parliamentary democracy with a multi-party system whereby the executive power is exercised by the prime minister, president and Council of Ministers. The president is elected by the Council of Representatives. He nominates the prime minister, who has to be approved by the Council of Representatives. The prime minister is the head of government and is the executive authority. The legislative power is vested in the Council of Representatives and the Federation Council. From the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, 320 members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation. The remaining eight seats are reserved for minorities. The Council of Representatives is elected for four years.
The Kurdistan Parliament has 111 seats and consists of one elected chamber. In 2009 amendments were made to the election law to increase the inclusiveness of all groups. The minimum age of parliamentary candidates was lowered from 30 to 25. The quota of female MPs was increased from 25 to 30 per cent of the legislature and seats reserved for minority Christian and Turkmen communities were increased to five seats each. Elections are held every four years. Every citizen of the Kurdistan Region with a minimum age of 18 years and on the electoral registering is eligible to vote in a direct, universal and secret ballot.
On May 12th 2018 Iraq went to the polls to vote for the first time since the defeat of ISIL and the Kurdish independence referendum in 2017. Originally the elections were scheduled to take place in September 2017 but were postponed because of the Iraqi Civil War. Voters could choose from a record number of 85 parties who organized themselves into larger alliances.
Voter turnout was with 44.52% the lowest since the first democratic elections in 2005 after de the fall of Saddam Hussein. The vote was widely seen as a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and his Nasr Coalition handling of the Iraqi Civil War. Although most analysts argued that al-Abadi had a good chance of winning the elections and securing a second term as prime minister, the Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform of the Shia cleric Sadr won most seats. Sadr won the nationwide popular vote with more than 1.3 million votes and gained 54 seats. He was followed by Amiri’s Conquest Alliance with more than 1.2 million votes, translating into 47 seats, and Abadi with more than 1 million votes and 42 seats.
Seats in parliament
State of Law Coalition
Observers and international reactions
The European Union Election Observation Mission in Iraq stated that the elections were a key step forward in the construction of Iraq's democracy and long-term stability. “Despite some regrettable isolated reports of violent incidents, the work of the Iraqi security forces and electoral authorities resulted in an orderly ballot, which allowed the Iraqi people to exercise their democratic rights in peace and security.” There were reportedly several instances in which the electronic voting system did not function. Another problem was the lack of functioning infrastructure in the country. Especially in the northern part of Iraq that was destroyed by ISIL, people had difficulties in reaching polling stations. The security measures that were in place to protect voters also made voting hard. People couldn’t enter large cities by car. Nonetheless was there one terror attack in Kirkuk, where two voters were killed.
The President is elected by a two-thirds majority of the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s Parliament. The President is elected to serve a four-year term in office, after which he may be re-elected once. The President approves laws which have been passed by Parliament and is the ceremonial head of the Armed Forces. He also fulfils ceremonial duties for Iraq. The President is aided by two Vice-Presidents. Together they form the Presidency Council, which makes decisions by unanimous vote.
Social Democratic Parties
President Kurdistan RegionRead biography
Prime Minister Kurdistan RegionRead biography
Party Leader KDPRead biography
Kosrat Rasul Ali
Party leader PUKRead biography
U.S. Relations with Iraq
The World Fact Book
Global edge: Iraq Government
Kurdistan Region Presidency
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Election Guide: Iraq
Kurdistan Regional Government
National Democratic Institute: Iraq election watch
State of Law Coalition
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