This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ibrahim Saleh.

Multi-Billion Dollar Budget Needed To Keep Iraq’s Water Flowing

In Baghdad, locals have been fretting about dramatic falls in the level of the Tigris river. The government has a plan. Only problem is, that plan requires billions in funding that Iraq does not have.

The passengers in the small bus all peer out anxiously as the vehicle crosses the Sanak bridge – the name used by locals for the Rashid bridge which spans the Tigris river in the middle of Baghdad. They’re not worried about the bridge though, they’re worried about the water levels.

“It’s actually very low,” one passenger says to another.

“We should expect that,” his travelling companion replies, “they are trying to drain the water – and the life – out of Iraq.”

Salah al-Jibouri is the 47-year old driver of the minibus. The passengers call him Uncle Salah. And he’s been driving this route for years. At the beginning of every Iraqi summer, he always hears these same conversations about the amount of water in the Tigris river. But this time, he says resignedly, it’s more serious and people are really worried.

Possibly with good reason. At the time the bus is crossing the bridge, it had only been 24 hours since the Turkish government announced that they had started filling their huge Ilisu Dam to the north. Critics have been talking about the damage that stopping the flow of water in Turkey will do to Iraq for years – but now the problem is clear for all to see, as the Tigris river levels have fallen away dramatically.

Locals could talk about little else. Some Iraqis posted pictures of residents who had been able to walk across the river, which usually requires a boat or a bridge to get over. They were also upset with their own government, which seemed to be confused as to what exactly was going on.

Turkish authorities quickly moved to calm the situation with the Turkish ambassador to Iraq saying that it would take nearly a  year to fill the Ilisu dam’s reservoir and the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the filling of the dam had been postponed.

The Iraqi minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, said that the two countries had agreed upon a way for Turkey to fill the dam more slowly, and without stopping as much water flowing into Iraq.

But the problem is far from resolved. Baghdad locals used to worry about flooding in the city during the wetter months. But now, floods are the last thing they need fear. Instead it is the dams being built by neighbouring countries – including Turkey, Iran and Syria – as well as climate change, that are reducing the water flow into their city.

Over two-thirds of Iraq’s water comes from tributaries it shares with neighbouring countries.

“After these dams were built, Iraq’s share of water decreased by more than 45 percent,” says Zafer Abdullah, a consultant for Iraq’s ministry of water resources.

Iraq has agreements with its neighbours about water flow and how much water the different nations need to share. But some of the treaties are not being adhered to, with, for example, the Iranian government reporting that it cannot stick to a previous deal because climate change has decreased the amount of water to be shared.

The solution would not be to build more dams, the Iraqi ministry of water resources, has stated. Iraq’s own dams are underutilized and would store billions more cubic litres, if they could.

The Iraqi authorities say they have a strategy to see them through until 2035, that would provide water for things like drinking and agriculture. It takes into account the decreased amount of water due to climate change as well as the potential for neighbouring countries to keep blocking or diverting rivers.

However, as al-Janabi says, for the plan to work, it requires 24 “urgent and essential” points to be resolved, at the cost of up to US$3 billion. And that is extra funding the Iraqi national budget cannot afford right now.

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)

By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

In a bold move, Iraq’s Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spoke in favor of the return of the Jews who were evicted from the country half a century ago. Sadr responded to a question posed by one of his followers June 2 on whether Iraqi Jews have a right to return after having been forcibly displaced due to previous Iraqi policies, noting that they used to own properties and were part of the Iraqi community.

He said, “If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” His answer was taken as tantamount to a religious edict, or fatwa.

The response has won him even more popularity and admiration for his policies and unexpected moves. His bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliament seats after allying with the Communist Party in an unprecedented move. This opening to ethnic and religious diversity reflects a shift in the personality of a Shiite religious and political figure known for being rebellious and defiant over the past 15 years.

However, an overview of Sadr’s previous positions reveals that this positive attitude toward Iraq’s Jews is not really new. In an interview with journalist Sarmad al-Tai in 2013, Sadr said he “welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims.”

Diyaa al-Asadi, a leader in the Sadrist movement, told Al-Monitor that while his movement criticizes the founding of the State of Israel for usurping the historical lands of Palestine, it distinguishes between Zionism as a secular political movement and Iraqi Jews as a religious minority rooted in Iraq.

Sadr, whose policy of openness to religious diversity is part of his comprehensive program to ease the sectarian and religious polarization of Iraqi politics, calls for the protection of Iraqi Jews and for granting them all their citizenship rights.

Tai, the reporter who interviewed Sadr in 2013, told Al-Monitor that by touching on the return of Iraqi Jews, Sadr has broken the silence on a sensitive issue that no other political or religious Iraqi leader has dared raise since the exodus of Jews in 1950-1951.

Sadr’s stance has sent a sigh of relief to the Jewish community outside of Iraq. Edwin Shukr [Shuker], a leader in the British Jewish community and personal envoy of the president of the European Jewish Congress, considers Sadr’s initiative a milestone and expressed his willingness to meet with Sadr and thank him on behalf of the Jewish community.

Sadr’s positivity toward a sect that has been neglected for more than half a century represents a real revolution that could change the perspective of large segments of Iraqi society.

Professor Ronen Zaidel, a specialist on Iraqi affairs at the University of Haifa, takes particular interest in Sadr’s policies. He believes that the fact that Sadr linked the return of Jews to their loyalty to Iraq as a conditional openness extended only to those holding non-Israeli passports.

However, he expressed cautious optimism that this could be just a first step to start a dialogue with the representatives of Iraq’s expatriate Jews. He does not expect that Sadr’s position will upend the Iraqi policy on all issues related to the future of the Jewish community in Iraq.

“The Iraqi authorities may permit members of the Jewish community to visit Jewish holy sites and shrines without granting them further rights or restoring their Iraqi citizenship,” he said.

Iraq is home to several Jewish holy shrines, including that of the Prophet Ezekiel (Al-Kifil in Babylon), Ezra HaSofer (Al-Azir in Maysan), the Prophet Daniel (near the castle of Kirkuk), the Prophet Jonah (in Mosul, destroyed by the Islamic State) and the Prophet Nahum (in the village of Alqosh).

Shukr hopes that “the openness of Sadr will be the start of public interest in preserving the holy Jewish places, which are common symbols of the Abrahamic religious heritage within Iraq and would pave the way for the rebuilding of ties between the new generations that are freed from the chains of hatred and fears of conflict.”

Iraq’s 2005 constitution did not recognize Judaism as one of the officially recognized religions such as Islam, Christianity, Mandean and Yazidi (Article 2.2).

A 1982 law that defined the officially recognized religious communities in Iraq included the Jewish community among the official religions but under the name “Mossawi,” or “follower of Moses.” The term “Israeli community” had been used in previous legislation and was changed to avoid mention of Israel for fear it could be interpreted as official recognition of the state.

The new Iraqi Nationality Law of 2006 also reinstated Iraqi citizenship for those who had lost it as a result of political, sectarian or racial decisions. A few minorities among Saddam Hussein’s opponents, including the Feyli (Lurs), benefited from the law, but Jews were excluded.

By John Lee.

Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri have reportedly announced an alliance between their political blocs.

The groups who won first and second places respectively in last month’s parliamentary election.

While Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance is opposed to Iranian involvement in Iraq, Amiri’s Fatah (Conquest) Coalition is head of an Iranian-backed militia.

At a joint press conference in Najaf, Sadr said “our meeting was a very positive one, we met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people. Our new alliance is a nationalist one.

(Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, Moqtada al-Sadr website)

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The fate of Iraq’s latest elections has become fraught following a deliberate arson attack on the ballot boxes storage center in the Rusafa district of Baghdad on June 10.

The facility exposed to the fire contained some 1.1 million of the overall 1.8 million votes from the Baghdad constituency. Baghdad is crucial to forming power in Iraq’s parliament as the district holds 71 of the total 329 seats. Votes from the Rusafa district alone account for around 40 seats and could alter the course of the future government.

The extent of the ballot losses remains unknown, but the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Riyadh al-Badran, claimed June 11 that 95% of the boxes had escaped the flames. The commission also announced in a statement that it “possesses backup copies of the results in the national office in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, Iraq’s interior minister stated, “We have taken control of the situation.” He added that there was “no burning of any ballots,” and that only electronic counting and sorting devices were affected by the fire, not the ballots themselves. However, political forces have cast doubt on the credibility of these disparate claims, demanding that a full re-election be staged and warning that the country faces the risk of igniting civil war.

Following the fire, the speaker of the outgoing parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, called for “a redo of the elections that have been proved rigged, distorting the results and the will of the Iraqi people in a deliberate and dangerous manner. Those who contributed to this act of fraud and vandalism must be prosecuted.” Jabouri claimed that the incident was “planned [and] deliberately intended to conceal cases of fraud and falsification of votes and to deceive the Iraqi people, manipulating their choices and their will.”

However, Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Sairoon Alliance won the first tier in the election, expressed his opposition to restaging elections in a June 11 article, “Iraq in danger,” calling on all political parties to unite and advance toward forming a government.

“Is it time we stand together for reconstruction or for us to burn the ballot boxes and restage elections for the sake of a seat or two?” he asked. Warning of attempts by some parties to ignite a civil war, he said that Iraq would not fall into what some who “sold two-thirds of Iraq want, which is a civil war” — a clear reference to a prior statement by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is accused of failing to prevent the country from falling into the hands of the Islamic State in 2014, that “civil wars usually occur after elections if results are challenged.”

Sadr’s top aide also accused both winning and losing parties in the elections of participating in the arson attack, claiming, “The ballot boxes storage center fire was either aimed at forcing the restaging of elections or covering up fraud.”

The beneficiary of redoing the election would be the losing parties, which would attempt to recoup their losses in another opportunity to win votes, while any who won votes through rigging would benefit from a cover-up of electoral fraud.

In this complex situation, the Iraqi government faces no easy choices and only four options. It can completely cancel the election and restage it in conjunction with municipal elections in December. It can restage the vote only in the Rusafa district, where votes were affected by the fire, or nullify results from this district and count only the results from the rest of Iraq. Or it can proceed with the declared results, incorporating any slight changes that may occur after manual sorting and counting.

The first option appears unfeasible in light of official statements from the supervisory authority responsible for conducting the elections and overseeing the integrity of results.

Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the prime minister, stated June 11 that the decision to rerun the election “is vested in the Federal Court, not the executive branch or any other party” — a clear comment on Jabouri’s call for a redo. Similarly, Board of Commissioners member Saad Kakaee said, “The decision to cancel the election results following the fire does not lie in the hands of the Board of Commissioners but with those in the Judicial Council and the Federal Court.”

The Judicial Council previously announced that there is no straightforward legal provision that allows the restaging of elections. Meanwhile, the winning blocs are opposed to any rerun, as indicated by previous statements from Sadr and Sairoon Alliance leaders, as well as from the Fatah Alliance that ranked second. Fatah Alliance spokesman Karim Nuri said, “We do not support a restaging … the compromise is a recount.”

Nullifying the results from the Rusafa district — whether accompanied by another election in the area or not — would open the path for opposition from other blocs that claim fraud has occurred in their constituencies. Among them are Al-Wataniya of Ayad Allawi, who has called for a referendum on the fate of the elections, and Kurdish opposition blocs including the Movement for Change (Gorran), which has accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of widespread electoral fraud.

The only remaining option is to proceed with the manual counting of outstanding votes by the judiciary, which has already appointed nine judges to supervise the process. Yet such a solution is not expected to yield results that differ markedly from those previously announced.

In the past, such electoral differences had been resolved through political settlements that sought to satisfy losing parties that contest the election results, while avoiding provoking opposition from the winners who endorse them. After a settlement is secured, the outcome will be announced through a decision by the judiciary, and will not be easily contested by the disputing parties.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has said the Kurdistan Regional Government is “firmly insistent to implement administrative reforms”.

These remarks were part of a speech he made at the ceremony of presention of the ISO certificate to the KRG Ministry of Interior.

He said the aim the KRG wants to attain is “to eliminate bureaucracy, red tape and conduct government’s jobs in a timely and simple manner; also following up citizens’ matters in a more efficient way with better quality.

Below is the transcript of Prime Minister Barzani’s speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to this event of presenting the ISO certificate to the Ministry of Interior of the Kurdistan Regional Government. This certificate is awarded to governmental and non-governmental organizations that adopt Quality Management System for their operation in which the citizens will be the first beneficiaries as their paperwork would be dealt with and followed up much quicker.

The KRG is pleased that the Ministry of Interior obtained such certificate. This shows that despite all the crisis and the hardship, the KRG has kept its strong will and stayed determined and continued carrying out its reform program. The KRG is very firmly insistent to implement administrative and management reforms; thus, provisioning more quality services to the citizens in a more efficient way.

I applaud the Ministry of Interior for successfully implementing this system in the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok as they already obtained the ISO certificate and now they repeated the same process in the Diwan of the Ministry of Interior and soon we anticipate the same system to be implemented in both Directorates of Traffic in Erbil and Suleimaniya.

This achievement by the Ministry of Interior, which is a first and exemplary step, could be used as model and encouragement for other governmental and non-govermental institutions to follow.

The KRG is making every endeavor to establish a modern IT infrastructure through utilizing the state-of-the-art technologies for better provisioning services to its citizens.

Our aim is to eliminate bureaucracy, red tape and conduct government’s jobs in a timely and simple manner; also following up citizens’ matters in a more efficient way with better quality. We want such high-quality services to be provisioned at every ministry, departments or organizations, be it on the border, in the towns or in the cities. We strive and continue until we fully achieve that.

We are seriously committed to implement reforms in all sectors and especially in administration system. This project which adopted first by Toursim Board in 2014, followed by the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok in 2015. The fact that the Kurdistan Region was in the middle of a full-scale war with Da’esh and facing a severe financial crisis. This showed the commitment of the KRG in establishing a modern system for provisioning deservedly high quality and most efficient services to its citizens.

Citizens come first! Yes, they come first. Our citizens’ satisfaction is important for us. When a citizens visit a government department, their work should be dealt with in a seamless way with utmost respect. They should feel like they are in a modern and forward-looking department. They should be welcomed and received in a highly respectful and ethical way. Government employees should make sure that the citizens leave happy and satisfied with the services provided for them.

We truly empathize with what the citizens go through when they apply for their paperwork to be processed through such complex system. We understand that citizens need to go through much for getting necessary approvals for their paperwork. We know that there are onerous routines that are totally unnecessary. We know that the citizens have to carry many documents and proofs and visit numerous rooms and places to get their job done and it could take them days or even weeks. This style of dealing with citizens’ paperwork needs to stop once and for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We know that all the bureaucracy and red-tape routines in the government services are not only attributed to the administration system, or to the way how employees treat citizens but sometimes laws and regulations could cause the routine and red-tape to occur! This also should be looked into. The KRG is looking to review the laws, bylaws and the responsibilities of the governmental organizations and departments. We collaborate with the Kurdistan Parliament to review the outdated laws and regulations so that technological and electronic innovations are incorporated in the laws to better serve citizens.

Technology’s role is to serve the humanity and make it easy to get the jobs done. It can play a pivotal role in the world of administration for getting the jobs done in a quality and more efficient way. The KRG continues working on its e-government project; its goal is to provide an online administration system just like the ones used by the developed countries, where much of the services can be accessed on a mere laptop from home, hence the need of all paperwork and documentation will be redundant.

The e-government must have a robust technological infrastructure so that it would be able to earn the ‘ISO’ certificate from the International Organization for Standardization and gain satisfaction from citizens when their paperwork are dealt with in no delay just like the way it’s done in the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok where, in few minutes, the citizen can renew their relevant documents.

The KRG will strive to make all its departments and offices ready to adopt the Quality Management System and obtain the ‘ISO’ certificate. This work is part of the multifaceted reform program endorsed by the KRG in all sectors. Just like in the energy sector where the Deloitte Company has been contracted to carry out audits. And, working with the World Bank in carrying out reforms in the banking sector. Similarly, we have been carrying out reforms in all sectors.

I applaud the Minister and his staff for their efforts and I wish them all the success in their endeavor.

Thank you again

(Source: KRG)

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Emergency services try to put out a fire that ripped through Iraq’s biggest ballot warehouse in eastern Baghdad’s Al-Russafa district, ahead of a vote recount prompted by allegations of fraud during legislative elections that saw a surprise victory for a populist cleric:

View on YouTube

By John Lee.

The Iraqi parliament has ordered a nationwide manual recount of all votes from the parliamentary elections, following claims from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that there had been serious violations.

Iraq’s top judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, will also take over the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), replacing the local heads in each of the provinces by judges.

Last month’s elections saw a low turnout, and an unexpected victory for Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

(Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP)

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Two pro-Iranian militias active in Iraq and Syria declared that possible US sanctions targeting them would be ineffective and claimed that such sanctions would actually strengthen their presence and expansion in the Middle East.

The US House of Representatives on May 24 passed sanctions against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as an amendment to annual defense legislation. The bill called for sanctions against “persons that are officials, agents, affiliates of or owned and controlled by” the two groups.

Laith al-Azari, a member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s political bureau, said on May 30, “Including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, along with some other Iraqi armed factions, on the terrorist list will increase our own ability to confront terrorism and confront US plans in Iraq.”

He did not explain how sanctions could lead to this result, but sees the action as an effort to thwart the pro-Iranian axis of resistance, which includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and confront Islamist movements. The sanctions vote followed US President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement withdrawing the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, ostensibly in order to reach a better deal that would limit Iran’s military power in the region.

In a May 30 interview with Rudaw, Mohammad Mohi, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, played down the importance of possible US sanctions, stating, “The US decision is not new as far as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is concerned. This is not a new issue, but one that has been tackled on an annual basis.” Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi was sanctioned in 2008 by the Treasury Department, which designated him an individual “fueling violence” in Iraq.

Mohi linked the House vote to a decision by the Iraqi parliament three months ago obligating the Iraqi government to schedule the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, measures supported by the two groups targeted for sanctions. While condemning foreign interference in Iraqi affairs, including the US and Turkish military presence, Mohi praised the Iranian presence, stating, “Without Iranian support, Iraq would not have defeated the Islamic State [IS]. Had it not been for Iran’s support, Erbil would have fallen [to IS] along with Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. This is why Iran’s intervention was in the interest of the Iraqi people, and it came at a time when other countries were idly watching Iraq head toward an unknown fate.”

The House’s sanctions vote followed Iraq’s May 12 legislative elections, in which the political organizations of the pro-Iranian militias emerged as the second largest coalition, meaning they might have a shot at forming the new government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq looks like it will occupy at least 14 of the 47 seats won by the Al-Fateh Alliance, consisting of pro-Iran factions and headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization. Al-Fateh came in second, behind the Sairoon Alliance, headed by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which won 56 seats. There are 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

Despite the Sairoon Alliance’s lead, its position could be undermined by independent candidates. It is being reported that a number of independents will be joining the Al-Fataeh Alliance. So far, only one such candidate for Shabak, Qusay Abbas, has joined Al-Fateh after winning a seat.

Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, expects his movement to end up with at least 15 seats once the official results are announced, following the resolution of disputes over balloting irregularities. The Badr Organization is also thinking that it will be allotted additional seats after the results are in. Meanwhile, the State of Law Coalition, another ally of Iran, won 26 seats, and is fully prepared to forge an alliance with Al-Fateh given their common political agendas.

All this means that should Al-Fateh’s natural allies join it, it would beat out the Sairoon Alliance and be in a position to form a government consisting mostly of pro-Iranian factions. If this scenario transpires, the United States could find itself in the very awkward situation of having to deal with a government it is sanctioning, should the sanctions ultimately be adopted. Would the United States actually sever ties with the Iraqi government, a key partner since 2003, or, finding that scenario unpalatable, simply decide to waive or put off new sanctions?

Another scenario that might be even more difficult for the United States would see Sairoon and Al-Fateh coming together around their shared goal of US forces withdrawing from the country and curbing US influence in Iraq and the region. Before that could happen, however, big differences between the two alliances would have to be overcome. Al-Fateh opposes the United States in favor of expanding Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region, while Sairoon wants an Iraq independent of Iran, free to manage its own internal affairs and regional positions.

Of note, Israeli-Russian understandings, with US buy-in, are being concluded to keep pro-Iranian militias away from the southern border of Syria, which would, of course, undermine the Iranian role in Syria. Regardless, in terms of US interests in Iraq, it appears the United States might ultimately find itself in the dilemma of having to choose between the lesser of evils.

The spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Hashim al-Moussawi, believes Washington launched a war on the resistance axis when it reneged on the Iranian nuclear deal and then prepared to impose economic sanctions on Hezbollah supporters. “This is an expected reaction to the losses suffered by the US by the Islamic resistance factions,” he said. “The elections in Lebanon and Iraq and the victory of the resistance [against IS in Iraq] showed the US the high level of threat it is facing.”

Moussawi touts the showing by the Al-Fateh Alliance as a victory for the Iranian axis. “This is why it [the US] is seeking to plunge Iraq into the spiral of permanent chaos,” he said. “The entry of the resistance into political circles will embarrass Washington, which is politically seeking to bypass the axis of resistance.”

By Bryant Harris for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

As parliamentarians in Baghdad work to form a new governing coalition in the wake of this month’s elections, their counterparts in Washington are seeking to sanction more than a dozen of the Iraqi legislators over their links to Iran.

The House of Representatives unanimously voted last week on legislation requiring President Donald Trump to sanction “persons that are officials, agents, affiliates of or owned and controlled by” two prominent Iran-backed militias that operate in Iraq and Syria.

The amendment from Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, to a must-pass annual defense authorization bill targets Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, both of which are part of the Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units battling the Islamic State.

Both militias joined with other Iran-backed military forces as part of the Fatah, or Conquest, political coalition, which came in second in the May 12 elections with 47 out of 329 parliamentary seats. Asaib Ahl al-Haq won 14 of those 47 seats, according to Iraq analyst Kirk Sowell, while Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba did not field any candidates.

“The US Department of Treasury will ultimately determine if the political wing constitutes an affiliate or entity controlled by” Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Poe aide told Al-Monitor. “Congressman Poe believes [Asaib Ahl al-Haq] will likely be subject to these penalties unless it completely breaks all ties with the armed wing, renounces violence and acts solely as [an] Iraqi political party with no backing from Iran.”

“Political parties are about engaging in peaceful civil discourse, not about representing armed thugs who commit violent atrocities to achieve political ends,” the aide added.

The Trump administration has taken an increasingly hawkish approach to Iran following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal earlier this month, vowing to go after Iran’s proxies throughout the region. If it so chooses, however, the administration has some wiggle room to avoid sanctioning the 14 new Asaib Ahl al-Haq lawmakers as Iraqi law requires political parties to formally separate themselves from the militias. However, the parties retain the same names as their respective militias and Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s leader, Qais al-Khazali [pictured], has landed a seat in parliament.

The Iraqi Embassy did not respond to Al-Monitor’s inquiries about its positions on the provision.

After Poe introduced similar legislation last year, a Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba spokesman denounced the bill as a “conspiracy and victory for the Islamic State and all other terrorist organizations supported by Washington.”

Despite the conspiratorial rhetoric, both the Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militias formed an alliance of convenience with the United States during the fight against the Islamic State. Previously, both groups had battled US forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq with the backing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The United States has sanctioned the leader of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Akram al-Kaabi, since 2008.

Despite Washington’s fear of growing Iranian influence in Iraq, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s nationalist Sairoon Alliance won the most seats. He is now working with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) coalition in an attempt to establish a new government, even as disgruntled parties are demanding a recount.

While Sadr previously directed the Mahdi Army against US troops following the 2003 invasion, he is also critical of Iranian influence in Iraq. This has prompted IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani to coordinate with pro-Tehran parties in Baghdad as a bulwark against Sadr.

Other than potential sanctions on the 14 Iraqi parliamentarians, it remains unclear how much of an impact such measures would actually have on Washington’s ability to do business with Baghdad as Iraqi politicians attempt to create a new coalition.

“The most meaningful impact of sanctions like these is often less on the direct targets and more on their environment,” Nathaniel Rabkin, the managing editor of the newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics, told Al-Monitor. “The more Iraqi entities and persons you sanction, the more US businesses will be cautious about doing business in Iraq more generally and the more carefully they’ll be vetting Iraqi partners.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced its own draft of the annual defense bill last week, but has not publicly released the text.

UN Iraq Representative Kubiš says elections were held in generally calm and stable environment, urges calm as electoral appeals are being adjudicated through established legal channels.

Briefing the UN Security Council, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Ján Kubiš said national elections were held on 12 May in a generally calm and stable environment. He called on political actors and their supporters to uphold peace as electoral appeals are being adjudicated through established legal channels, and urged the independent electoral management bodies to adjudicate all appeals properly, fully and expeditiously, to enable corrections of the problems, justice and the timely certification of the final election results.

Mr. Kubiš noted that many Iraqi political leaders publicly endorsed the electoral process including the Prime Minister and the President, but some other political leaders, including Vice Presidents of the Republic and the Speaker of the Parliament, raised concerns over some of the technical shortfalls encountered with the electronic vote tabulation devices, as well as reports of fraud and vote rigging, active intimidation of voters including by some armed formations, and political interference.

“We continue to urge all Iraqi political actors and their supporters to uphold peace, as electoral appeals are being adjudicated through established legal channels. I also call on the Electoral Commission to continue to safeguard the integrity of all electoral materials and equipment and to cooperate fully and abide by the decisions of the Electoral Judicial Panel, including possible measures to effectively address complaints as lodged by stakeholders in a number of locations. We urge the independent electoral management bodies to adjudicate all appeals properly, fully and expeditiously, to enable corrections of the problems, justice and the timely certification of the final election results.”

The Special Representative highlighted the readiness and availability of United Nations electoral advice and expertise, in support of any activities and measures that may be required to retain confidence in the process, including as regards Kirkuk also in the light of the forthcoming Provincial Council elections across Iraq and the regional elections in the Kurdistan Region later this year.

Mr. Kubiš stated that the elections were marked by a low voter turnout of 44.52 percent as reported by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), a significant decrease in comparison with previous national elections in Iraq after 2003. This sends a strong signal to the elites ruling the country since 2003, a loud call on their representatives to finally rise up to the people’s expectations. “I urge the Iraqi political elites to hear that call and draw the necessary conclusions on the need for improved representation, justice for all, democratic accountability and good governance void of corruption, sectarian quota system, nepotism and patronage.”

In his briefing, he noted that despite defamation campaigns aimed at undermining the candidacy of women which he roundly condemns, several female candidates received a high number of votes within their political lists, and that some 19 female candidates were elected to parliament.

“Our expectation for the future is that the 25% quota which now guarantees 83 seats for women, represents the minimum threshold and not the ceiling,” he added, calling on political leaders to ensure the full participation of women in political negotiations and their representation at the highest levels in Iraq’s political and decision-making structures.

The SRSG urged political leaders to build on the achievements of the current government in the post-election phase, stressing the need to prioritise inclusive, non-sectarian dialogue, and to ensure the swift formation of a new truly national Government which reflects the will of the people of Iraq.

(Source: UN)