Parliamentary elections in Iraq are scheduled for April 2014. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated State of Law party is leading in the polls, having made up some ground after a disappointing performance earlier in local elections. Following the vote, Maliki is likely to be granted first crack at forming a coalition government. But the chances the next administration will be more stable than this one were never good and diminishing daily.

Conflict between the central government in Baghdad and leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq looks set to escalate as Kurdish officials push forward with plans to establish an independent basis for exporting the region’s oil output, And the prospects for bridging the Shiite-Sunni divide are dimming rapidly, as the steady rise of the death toll from sectarian conflict drives a wedge between the two communities.

Maliki remains the only prospective head of government who is deemed acceptable to both the U.S. and Iran, which see influence with (if not control over) the government in Baghdad as vital to their regional interests. Unfortunately, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have lost all trust in the prime minister.

Iraq’s tumultuous post-war history has made clear that any chance of establishing something resembling stability hinges on sustaining an inclusive government made up of representatives from all three of the countries main groups, and there are growing doubts that such a political formula will continue to be feasible if Maliki remains at the helm.

The uncertainty is compounded by questions surrounding the constitutionality of the recently approved electoral law.

The uncertainty is compounded by questions surrounding the constitutionality of the recently approved electoral law, which points to a risk of a delay in holding the elections. Even if the elections proceed as scheduled (which is hardly a safe assumption at this point), it is quite probable that one or more candidates who go down to defeat in April 2014 will seek to have the results invalidated by challenging the constitutionality of the electoral rules after the fact.

There is also a risk that the elections could be postponed on security grounds in the event of a significant escalation of political violence. Attacks by Sunni extremists against Shiite targets and Sunnis accused of “collaboration” with the Shiite-dominated government, have centered on Anbar province, where government security forces have mostly withdrawn from major urban centers.

The militants cannot hold territory and do not pose a serious danger in Baghdad, from which they were driven out by Shiite militias during the peak of sectarian fighting in 2006–2007. However, attacks on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline halved oil export volumes in August compared to the peak of 330,000 barrels per day (bdp) recorded in March 2013, and there have been episodes of unrest in the southern oilfields, which have generally been free of violence, in recent weeks.

Such incidents have tarnished Maliki’s reputation as a leader capable of upholding order, and it is probably a safe bet that he will take steps to rehabilitate his image ahead of the elections. Nevertheless, a comprehensive political solution that addresses Sunni grievances over political marginalization still seems a very distant possibility.

The level of violence is unlikely to abate significantly in the pre-election period, and should security issues delay the holding of an election, the Sunni population’s mistrust of Maliki means that such a move would be viewed with suspicion, and would likely lead to a further heightening of domestic tensions and an escalation of unrest.


The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.

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