Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case filed by several Shiite political parties, including some linked to Iran-backed militias, to annul the results of the general election in October on grounds of fraud.
The ruling came amid tight security in and around Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where the court building, government offices and embassies are located. The security measures and protests by supporters of Shiite militias outside the zone have snarled traffic and disrupted daily life.
The verdict read out by the Chief Judge Jassim Mohammed Abood is final and cannot be appealed.
The court also ratified the election result, setting the stage for the formation of a new government.
Iraqis voted on October 10 in an early election demanded by a pro-reform, youth-led protest movement that swept central and southern Iraq two years earlier.
The Sadrist bloc, a political group sponsored by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, emerged as the clear winner with 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament. The Taqadum party, one of two main Sunni political groups, and led by former parliament speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi, followed with 37 seats. Former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki’s State of Law bloc came third with 33 seats.
Mr Al Sadr’s main rival, the Iran-backed Fatah Alliance, won only 17 seats, compared with 45 in 2018.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 31 seats, while the Kurdistan Alliance led by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party won only 17 seats.
State of Law, Fatah and other Shiite groups formed the Co-ordination Framework to contest the election results. Their appeal to the Supreme Court alleged many electoral irregularities, including the failure of the electronic voting system to recognise the fingerprint identification of many voters.
Iraq's Independent High Elections Commission conducted a recount in some areas after the Co-ordination Framework challenged the initial results. It said the recount altered the results for only five seats.
Mr Al Sadr called for calm in a statement welcoming the Supreme Court's ruling and reiterated his intention to form a "national majority government".
“I call for preserving peace, the country is entrusted to us as that we need to expedite forming the government neither eastern or western,” he said, referring to influence wielded by Iran and the US in Iraq.
Leaders of the Co-ordination Framework accepted the ruling grudgingly.
“Out of our fears about Iraq's stability and security … we are committed to the Federal Court ruling despite our the profound conviction that the electoral process was tainted by fraud and manipulations,” Fatah Alliance leader Hadi Al Amiri said.
Mr Al Amiri said the court had come under “heavy pressure” from inside and outside Iraq, without elaborating.
For his part, Mr Al Maliki sad the verdict “was expected given the country's situation in which the election can't be annulled and then held again".
Shiite cleric Ammar Al Hakim, whose National Power of the State Coalition is part of the Co-ordination Framework, also said he would respect the Supreme Court's verdict.
“We are committed to the Federal Court ruling in regard to the results, despite our serious observations regarding the election process,” he said.
Mr Al Hakim's coalition, formed in alliance with former prime minister Haider Al Abadi, won four seats.
He said he stood by his decision not to take part in the next government.
President Barham Salih now has 15 days to convene a sitting of the new parliament, which then has to agree on a new government within 90 days.
The oldest member of parliament will chair the legislative body as acting speaker until one is elected. After electing a new speaker and two deputies, MPs will vote for a new president and the prime ministerial nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc will be asked to form a government. All cabinet appointments require parliamentary approval.
Under an unofficial agreement, Iraq’s presidency — a largely ceremonial role — is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister's post is reserved for a Shiite and the parliament speaker's position is held by a Sunni.
Other government posts are divided among the country’s political parties based on their religious and ethnic backgrounds.
The system, adopted after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime in the 2003 US-led invasion, is thought to have led to widespread corruption and mismanagement.