Pro-Iranian parties and armed groups have denounced early results from Iraq’s elections as “manipulation” and a “scam”.
Sunday’s parliamentary election – the fifth in the war-scarred country since the US-led invasion and overthrow of ruler Saddam Hussein in 2003 – was marked by a record low turnout of 41 percent.
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According to preliminary results from the electoral commission, the biggest winner appeared to be the movement of religious scholar and political maverick Muqtada al-Sadr, which increased its share to 73 of the assembly’s 329 seats.
Losses were booked by pro-Iranian parties with links to the armed groups that make up the fighter network known as Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second largest bloc in parliament, suffered a sharp decline from 48 to about a dozen seats, according to observers and results compiled by AFP.
“We will appeal against the results and we reject them,” said a joint statement by several parties, including the Fateh Alliance, on Tuesday.
“We will take all available measures to prevent the manipulation of votes,” added the statement also signed by the party of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who served from 2014 to 2018.
Hadi al-Amiri, one of the most powerful pro-Iranian figures in Iraq, said the results were “fabricated”, according to the Baghdad-based pro-Iranian TV channel al-Aahd.
“We will not accept these fabricated results, whatever the cost,” the channel cited him as saying on Tuesday on its Telegram messaging account.
One of Hashd’s most powerful factions, the Hezbollah Brigades, rejected the election as “the biggest scam and rip-off the Iraqi people have been subjected to in modern history”.
“The Hashd al-Shaabi brothers are the main targets,” its spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari said.
The Hashd was formed in 2014 and went on to play a major role in the defeat of the ISIL (ISIS) group, which had expanded its self-declared “caliphate” centred in Syria and taken over a third of Iraq.
The Hashd has since been integrated into Iraq’s state security apparatus, and many lawmakers linked to it were elected to parliament in 2018.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services and Iranian influence in politics.
The protest movement ended after hundreds of demonstrators were killed. More activists have since been targeted in bloodshed and abductions which the movement blames on pro-Iran armed groups.
Ali al-Nashmi, professor of International Relations at Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad told Al Jazeera that the election results appeared likely to produce a similar outcome to the previous election held in 2018.
“Nothing will happen … the[re] [are the] same leaders, same list, same schedule, and the same plan and goal, nothing will happen on the ground,” he said.
“All the dreams, all the hopes, all the demands of the Iraqi people are gone with the wind … many people expected that something will change with these elections but maybe [we will see] just some few changes,” he added.
Iraq is a major oil producer but nearly a third of its almost 40 million people live in poverty, according to United Nations figures, and the COVID pandemic only deepened a long-running economic crisis.
Kadhimi’s political future is now uncertain, with few observers willing to predict who will emerge as leader after the usual haggling between factions that follows Iraqi elections.
Another notable trend in the elections were the gains by the pro-Iranian State of Law Alliance of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who served from 2006 to 2014. His party is likely to be able to count on about 30 seats.
The European Union observer mission said it saw the low voter turnout as a “clear political signal”, hoping that it would be “heard by the political elite”.