Iraq 2010: Background

Brief history of the 2010 Iraq election

On March 7, 2010, Iraqis voted in their second parliamentary elections since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. Iraq’s first national assembly elections had taken place five years earlier, in January 2005 and its first parliamentary elections had been held in December of the same year.

Despite mortars, rocket fire and other violence in Baghdad and other cities that left 40 or so dead, voters turned out in large numbers for what the New York Times’ called “arguably the most open, most competitive election in the nation’s long history of colonial rule, dictatorship and war.”

Bruce Plante / Tulsa World

In the 2010 elections, nearly 19 million Iraqis were eligible to vote for the 306 political entities registered to run. The Iraqi government and Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC), which led, funded, and managed the voting, deployed 300,000 election officials and monitors to oversee the 50,000 polling stations throughout the country’s 18 provinces. Iraqis living in 16 other countries—Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, UAE, UK, and the United States—were also eligible to vote in foreign polling stations.

In 2005, Iraqis voted for 275 seats in the Council of Representatives, but because of population growth, the number of seats in parliament to be elected in 2010 were increased to 325—or roughly one seat per 100,000 people. By electoral law 82 of those seats (25 percent) in the 2010 election were reserved for female representatives.

Back in 2005, charges of corruption and fraud plagued the aftermath of the election, in part because of the “closed list” electoral system in which voters selected a party or coalition list rather than individual party members. Concerns about the personal safety of candidates had led the electoral commission to conceal candidates’ names. But the closed system had allowed some parties to fill seats with family members and allies, so to counter that nepotism, in the 2010 election an open system had been put into place: voters could chose to vote a straight party list, or they could individually vote for specific candidates from any party.

Concerns arose in 2010 over the mid-January disqualification of almost 500 candidates by the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice because of their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party. Because the majority of those blocked candidates were Sunni, the move was viewed by many as an attempt by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to block rivals. Maliki’s government, led by Shiites, aligned at times with Kurds, has included Sunnis in key positions, but many Sunnis felt disenfranchised and blamed Maliki’s party for doing too little at the height of the sectarian violence in 2006-7 when many Sunnis were exiled or murdered.

The election commission’s decision to disqualify the formerly Ba’athist aligned candidates was overturned by an appeals court, but the day after the campaign officially began on February 12, the commission decided that hundreds would remain off the ballot. Slightly over three weeks later, on March 7, the election was held, but it took almost three weeks, until March 26, for the election results to be released.

When the totals were finally announced, they did not resolve the questions of who would govern. The State of Law coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki finished in second place by two seats, 89 to 91, to the al-Iraqiyya party list led by a former interim leader, Ayad Allawi. Both groups had far fewer than the 163 seats needed to secure an outright governing majority able to select a prime minister. Accusations of corruption and fraud by the leading parties ensued, and divisions emerged among the party lists.

In fact, neither in 2005 nor 2010 did voters directly choose the head of state—a prime minister—but as is typical in a parliamentary democracy system, they elected the members of parliament who would select one. In 2006, it took months of negotiations before legislators settled on the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

In 2010, the post-election period of alliance formation, is also expected to last several months. Both al-Iraqiyya’s Allawi and the State of Law coalition’s al-Maliki are jockeying for the post of prime minister; each would need the support of the Kurdish parties and/or the Iraqi National Alliance. The INA has two main factions. The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council has stated that it would not join a government if Allawi was not a part. The other main INA faction, the Sadrist Movement held an unofficial referendum and announced on April 7 that Jaafar al-Sadr, the son of its ideological founder Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, was its candidate.

Resources on the Iraq election