Iraq set to elect new president on Thursday a year after elections

Names of compromise candidates discussed at meeting in Erbil, but incumbent Barham Salih also in frame

Iraq's President Barham Salih has a good chance of being re-elected, experts say. Reuters
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Iraq’s Parliament is set to hold a special session on Thursday to elect a new president — one year on from national elections.

A political impasse has gripped the country since last October's poll, with sporadic violence breaking out on the streets of Baghdad and southern cities.

The president is chosen by ruling Kurdish parties and must be of Kurdish origin, in accordance with a power-sharing system designed to avoid sectarian conflict.

The announcement by Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi came a day after he led a delegation to meet Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

The delegation included the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework's nominee for the post of prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, and the chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, Falih Al Fayyadh.

Mr Al Halbousi did not say whether an agreement had been struck among the Kurds to put forward a candidate — one of many issues that have delayed forming a new government.

At the meeting, Mr Barzani dug in his heels and refused to support the incumbent Barham Salih, the politician Mahmoud Al Hayani, who is linked to the Fatih Coalition within the Co-ordination Framework, told The National.

Mr Barzani is still insisting on removing Mr Salih and picking a “compromise candidate” for president, Mr Al Hayani said.

He said a number of names for compromise candidates were discussed at the meeting in Erbil, capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

These included former water resources minister Abdul Latif Jamal Rasheed, Mr Al Hayani said.

He could not confirm on Tuesday if a deal between the Kurds had been reached.

The results of the October 2021 elections saw Shiite cleric and politician Moqtada Al Sadr emerge as the main winner, but he failed to gain a majority to form a government.

Since then, background deals and discussions to get the government formation process to move have not reached a lasting result.

“Increasingly it does appear that Moqtada Al Sadr can be excluded from the new government and that the Co-ordination Framework, Iran and the Sunni and Kurdish factions are willing to risk Sadr’s exclusion,” Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank told The National.

“Dark times are coming, similar to the 2019 protests but without much hope of removing the premier or having the US remove key militia leaders.”

Who will become Iraq's next president?

Some experts believe that the two ruling Kurdish parties, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan will fail to come to an agreement on choosing one candidate for the presidency.

“I don’t think the KDP and the PUK will agree on candidate, so it will move to a vote in Parliament that will determine who gets the position,” Sajad Jiyad, an Iraqi political analyst told The National.

“I think the PUK win that vote [in Parliament] and I think Barham Salih will have a good chance of being elected as president again. Immediately after, I think he will nominate Mohammed Al Sudani to form a government,” Mr Jiyad said.

Renad Mansour, the director of the Iraqi initiative at London's Chatham House think tank, also said if there is an open vote in Parliament, then Mr Salih has a good chance of getting re-elected as president.

“This is because of what happened in 2018. He was selected with a Parliament vote rather than through back room deals,” Mr Mansour said.

The Co-ordination Framework is asserting that “if there isn’t a consensus by the Kurds then we should have an open vote in Parliament”, he said.

This will be the likely scenario on Thursday if Parliament can reach the minimum number of members to conduct business, Mr Mansour said.

Updated: October 11, 2022, 5:09 PM