Iraq Political System
Short for IZ by Abbreviationfinder, Iraq’s constitution aims to reconcile the disparate interests of different groups of people. There are many different parties, but the politics are largely divided between Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs. Most major parties represent an ethnic or religious interest, with great dominance within the central government of Shiite groups. Many Sunni Muslims feel excluded from power and have supported militant groups that fought against the United States first and then the central government dominated by Shia Muslims. The legal situation has remained uncertain and dangerous for tens of thousands of imprisoned Iraqis, and torture and other abuses are a major problem.
In the years following President Saddam Hussein’s 2003 fall, Iraq had a provisional constitution, a temporary parliament, a transitional government and a temporary presidential council.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Iraq for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
In 2005, a new constitution was adopted through a referendum and the same year elections were held for Parliament. Parliamentary elections have since been held again in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
The Constitution encompasses freedom of speech and freedom of religion. However, Islam is seen as a basic source of legislation; no law may be adopted that deviates from the traditions of Islam or from democratic principles. According to the constitution, Iraq is a federal state, which in practice mainly concerns the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq (see Kurdistan). The meaning of the constitution has often been contested, especially regarding the federal structure of the country. The constitution is written to prevent minorities or small majorities from taking control of politics and therefore in many issues requires broad parliamentary support. This has been intended to keep the country together and force compromises between the political and religious groups, but it has also made Iraq slow to govern and led to, for example, the formation of government taking a long time.
Institutions and political leaders
The federal legislative power consists of the Representative Council (Majlis al-nuwwab), which is a parliament with currently 329 members elected in general elections every four years. At least a quarter of the members must be women.
The President is appointed by Parliament by a two-thirds majority, for a maximum of two terms of office of four years. If no candidate can collect a sufficient number of votes, the two candidates who received the highest number of votes are put against each other, after which the one who receives the strongest support will be elected president. The president represents the country but has limited influence over daily politics. It is the president’s job to appoint a prime minister, on a proposal from the largest political bloc. The prime ministerial candidate then appoints a government and issues a government declaration, which must be supported by an absolute majority of the members of the representative council. With the support of an absolute majority of Members, Parliament can topple a government or individual ministers and dissolve itself and call for new elections.
A practice has been developed according to which the more important federal posts (mainly the President, the Prime Minister and the Council of Representatives as well as some heavy ministerial posts, such as the Minister of Defense, the Interior Minister and the Foreign Minister) are distributed among the more important people groups. In practice, the President is now expected to be Kurd, Prime Minister Shia Muslim and President Sunni Muslim. The most important of these items is the prime minister, which reflects the strong position of Shia Muslims in parliament and in the country’s politics in general since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Since 2018, Iraqi President Barham Salih (Sunni Muslim Kurd, PUK).
Federal and regional
Following the 2003 US invasion, Iraq is a federal state that, under the Constitution, provides far-reaching self-government to local governments, although this does not always work in practice. Iraq’s 18 provinces are administratively divided into districts, municipalities and villages. The constitution guarantees the rights of ethnic-religious minorities within specific local administrations. Disputes between courts in regions and provinces and the federal level shall be decided by the Supreme Federal Court.
The provinces (except the capital) have the right, individually or together, to form so-called autonomous regions. These regions have very large self-determination, including the right to enact laws, except for those defined as the central government’s responsibility in the Constitution (for example, defense and foreign policy). To date, there is only one such region, Kurdistan, which is governed by its own autonomous government. However, some Shiite groups have made demands for an autonomous region in southern Iraq, although other Shiites oppose it. In recent years, the idea has also been aired among some Sunni Muslims, though traditionally they have most often been in favor of the idea of Iraq as a unified state.
The 15 provinces that are not part of a region are governed by governors, elected by provincial councils. According to the Constitution, all issues that are not explicitly defined as federal cases in the Constitution must be decided at the provincial or regional level, and in the event of disputes, the interests of the provinces / regions should take precedence over the central government. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (000000) sought to centralize power over the provinces to his government in Baghdad and, among other things, allowed Parliament to oust governors and take control of the provinces’ budget. In June 2013, however, a law was established, against Maliki’s will, which further strengthened local self-determination.
According to Article 65 of the Constitution, the Council of Representatives (Parliament) is tasked with creating another legislative council called the Federation Council. The Federation Council will gather representatives of the country’s autonomous regions and provinces that have not been merged into regions. However, the exact role of the Federation Council has been left unclear in the Constitution, which states that these issues must be decided by a two-thirds majority in the Representative Council. Although a proposal was submitted to the Council of Representatives in 2009, the Federation Council has never been formed.
The federal central government (the government of Baghdad) is to maintain Iraq’s unity and is responsible for defense and foreign policy, including international economic and trade agreements. Oil and gas revenues at existing – but not newly discovered – facilities should accrue to the federal budget and be evenly distributed across the country (see Natural Resources and Energy). In several areas, including electricity and water supply, environmental protection and education, the central government and the provinces have shared responsibility, but in the event of disputes, the provinces’ laws should weigh more heavily.
Since 1992, the Kurds have been in full control of about two-thirds of the area they call Iraqi Kurdistan. These are three provinces (Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyya) governed as an autonomous region with its own president and parliament through the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). In practice, the Iraqi central government has had limited influence over these areas, which were self-governing long before the current constitution was written. The borders between Kurdish areas and the rest of Iraq are disputed. According to Article 140 of the Constitution, a referendum was to be held by December 31, 2007 to decide exactly where the border should go, but this referendum has never been held. Kurdistan and Natural Resources and Energy). Instead, a Kurdish referendum on independence was held in the fall of 2017, but it was declared illegal by Iraq’s highest court.
Political parties and alliances
Until 2003, Iraq was ruled by the Baath Party (Arab Socialist Baath Party, Hezb al-Baath al-Arabi al-Ishtiraki), led by Saddam Hussein, along with a number of small coalition parties within the so-called National Patriotic Progressive Front (al-Jabha al-Wataniyya al-Qawmiyya al-Taqaddumiyya), which in practice was completely dominated by the Baath Party. Following the 2003 US invasion, the Baath Party was banned but the organization remained as an underground resistance movement. Since then, a variety of political parties have emerged, many with religious agendas. The election campaigns and parliamentary work are dominated by larger coalitions, but it often happens that parliamentarians and smaller parties leave these collaborations and change sides. These large coalitions thus contain many different movements and rarely have clear ideology, but they tend to be dominated by a religious group.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Iraqis were able to elect more than 9,000 candidates and 276 political parties or alliances. The rule of law (or the Rule of Law coalition, Ittilaf Dawlat al-Qanun), an alliance of mainly Shia Muslim allies to the then Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, became the largest single political bloc with 92 of the then 328 seats. Maliki’s own party, which was part of the alliance, is called Dawa (al-Dawa al-Islamiyya, “the Islamic calling”). It is one of Iraq’s oldest Shiite parties and was supported by Iran during the fight against Saddam Hussein.
Dessert state followed two other portions Shia: The freed blocks (Kutlat Ahrar al) and Citizen list (Ittilaf al Muwatin).
The largest Sunni group in Parliament was Muttahidun (Ittilaf Muttahidun lil-Islah, United for the coalition for reform). Another major political bloc was the al-Wataniyya list (Ittilaf al-Wataniyya), whose leader Iyad Allawi is a Shiite Muslim, although the party is mainly supported by Sunni Muslims.
Prior to the 2018 election, several examples were given of how variable the party image is, and how often collaborations are re-examined. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formed the Seger Alliance to take advantage of the fact that the government army has managed to recapture large areas, not least the large city of Mosul, from the Islamic State (IS) jihadi movement. He hoped to broaden his electoral base in addition to the Shi’a Muslims, but at the same time it meant the split of the old Shia alliance Dawa and no election victory.
A more surprising new alliance was formed before this election by Shi’a preacher Muqtada al-Sadr’s new list Istiqama and Iraq’s Communist Party. The alliance won the election, but needed the support of many other groups to form government.
The two leading Kurdish political parties are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Partîya Demokrata Kurdistanê, KDP ; in Kurdish often abbreviated PDK) and Kurdistan’s Patriotic Union (Yekêtiy Niştîmaniy Kurdistan, PUK). The more conservative KDP has its power base in northwestern Iraq. The more left-wing PUK, which has its base in northeastern Iraq, was long led by Jalal Talabani, who was Iraq’s president in 2005–2014. Talabani died in 2017, which has weakened PUK and led to uncertainty over who controls the party. PUK and KDP each have an armed branch, “peshmerga” (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
By far the largest in the armed Sunni uprising has been the Islamic State (IS, al-Dawla al-Islamiyya). The group has its roots in the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, and its predecessor was named al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidain), but IS leaders broke with al-Qaeda. 2006-2010 the organization called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and in 2013–2014 was called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an Arabic word that can be translated by “Greater Syria” or “The Levant” (it was therefore abbreviated Isis or Isil, or in Arabic Daesh). Under this name, the group also began performing in Syria, where it had infiltrated the civil war that broke out in 2011. IS took control of parts of western Iraq in 2014 and during summer also over Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, as well as Tikrit and several other Sunni cities. The group also ruled large parts of northern and eastern Syria. In these areas, the IS established a hard-line religious government with persecution of non-Sunni Muslims and other suspected opponents. In 2014, IS proclaimed a “caliphate” under its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a government of all the world’s Muslims, and sought to expand in the rest of the Muslim world. Smaller groups joined eg Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan / Pakistan and Algeria. In 2017, however, Iraqi forces succeeded in collaboration with the Kurds and with the support of, among other things, the US crushing IS dom, while IS was also expelled from most of its strongholds in Syria. Smaller groups joined eg Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan / Pakistan and Algeria. In 2017, however, Iraqi forces succeeded in collaboration with the Kurds and with the support of, among other things, the US crushing IS dom, while IS was also expelled from most of its strongholds in Syria. Smaller groups joined eg Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan / Pakistan and Algeria. In 2017, however, Iraqi forces succeeded in collaboration with the Kurds and with the support of, among other things, the US crushing IS dom, while IS was also expelled from most of its strongholds in Syria.
A more detailed account of the political groups in Iraq can be found here.
Shia Muslims make up a majority of Iraq’s population. In addition, Arab Sunni Muslims are underrepresented because some have boycotted the elections and there have been raging battles in many Sunni provinces. Shia groups therefore have a very strong position in Parliament. Several of the most powerful Shiite parties are affiliated with Iran and have been controlling armed militia organizations since the fight against Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that all armed organizations would actually disband after 2003.
In the 2014 elections, the largest group became the Shiite Muslim Rule of Law where the Dawa party dominates (see Political system). In 2018, the Rule of Law remained, but with much weakened voter support. Before the May 2018 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that he had formed a new alliance, the Seger Alliance. It based its claims of power on the fact that the government forces had succeeded in defeating the Sunni extremist movement IS. It was reported that Abadi remained a member of Dawa, although he chose to lead a new association prior to the election. The victory alliance failed to convince as many voters as one hoped, it was ranked third in the election. Another consequence of Abadi’s new alliance was that Dawal leader Nuri al-Maliki’s chances of returning as head of government were diminished.
In second place in 2014 came the Bloc of the Frias (Kutlat al-Ahrar), an Islamist alliance loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the son of an influential Shiite leader who was murdered by Saddam Hussein. Sadr previously controlled the powerful armed group Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi). In 2014, he restarted the Mahdi army under the name of the Peace Companies (Saraya al-Salam). Sadr’s political line has shifted, but in recent years he has sought consensus with some Sunni politicians, partly because of his poor relations with former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In the 2018 election, Sadr emerged with a new list, Istiqama, and surprised by working with the communists. The alliance between the Sadr camp and several secular parties was given the nameOn the march against reform (a free translation of Sa’irun) and won the election, although Sadr himself did not stand as a candidate.
The third major Shiite bloc in the parliament elected in 2014 was the Citizens Coalition (Ittilaf al-Muwatin), controlled by the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council (al-Majlis al-a’la al-Islami al-Iraqi; Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI ; former Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI). The circles around ISCI also regroup between the elections. ISCI is an Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group founded as a resistance movement against Saddam Hussein. ISCI’s armed branch Badror Organization (Munazzamat al-Badr; formerly the Badr Legion) is considered to have a strong foothold within the Interior Ministry’s police and special forces. ISCI has driven the demand to create a Shiite-dominated region in southern Iraq, modeled on Kurdish autonomy in the north. Badir leader Hadi al-Amiri, who has been a hero of war, including after the Badr forces took part in the fighting against IS, appeared before the 2018 elections as an alliance leader and the voice magnet. Candidates in his camp officially left their military posts to run as politicians in the Fatah Alliance(Conquest), which became the second choice. The development is described as a separation between ISCI and Badr, and a transformation of Badr into a political party. ISCI had previously been given a new leader in Humam Hamudi, while former leader Ammar al-Hakim chose to leave the movement in 2017. For the 2018 election, Hakim formed the Wisdom Movement (Tayyar al-Hikma al-Watani) with a stated goal to counter sectarianism and extend hand to the Sunni Muslims. That was enough for 19 mandates for al-Hikma.
The smaller Shi’a parties include the Islamic Virtue Party (Hizb al-Fadila al-Islamiyya), which broke out of the Muqtada al-Sadr movement and the National Reform Movement (Tayyar al-Islah al-Watani), led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a former prime minister who dropped off from the Dawap party. The faithful bloc (Kutlat al-Sadiqun), who won a mandate in the 2014 elections, is politically linked to the powerful Iran-backed Shiamilis called the Ahl al-haqq alliance (Asaib Ahl al-Haqq). Prior to the 2018 election, Ahl al-haqq coordinated with the Iran-friendly Conquest and contributed his mandate to that block’s second place.
The largest of the Sunni groups after the 2014 elections was Muttahidun (Ittilaf Muttahidun lil-Islah, United for the coalition of reform), founded in the winter of 2012 under the leadership of Usama al-Nujayfi, a member of a powerful family from Mosul. Osama’s brother Athil al-Nujayfi was governor of Mosul until 2015 and leader of a local party that is part of Muttahidun. Other members of the coalition include leaders of the former US-backed so-called Sahwa militia in western Iraq (see Modern History) and Iraq’s Islamic Party (al-Hizb al-Islami al-Iraqi), which is the branch of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood.
The most important member organization in the al-Wataniyya list (Ittilaf al-Wataniyya) is the secular organization of the Iraqi National Pact (al-Wifaq al-Watani al-Iraqi), also known as al-Wifaq. It is a former resistance group against Saddam Hussein whose leader Iyad Allawi jumped off the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein and joined the exile position. He was briefly Iraq’s prime minister during the US occupation. Allawi is a secular Shia Muslim, but the party has support mainly from Sunni Muslims. In the 2018 election, his group got 21 seats.
Saleh al-Mutlaq’s al-Arabiyya coalition (Ittilaf al-Arabiyya) also belonged to the most important Sunni groups in the 2014 parliament. Mutlaq is a Sunni Muslim from al-Fallujah. He left the Baath Party in 1977, but his party has captured many dissatisfied Sunni voters who previously supported Baath. Mutlaq has held several prominent positions in the state since Saddam Hussein’s time and has chosen to cooperate with Iyad Allawi and al-Wataniyya.
In addition to KDP and PUK (see Political system), there are also other Kurdish parties, but they are not as influential. In 2006, several leading PUK members jumped off and formed the Movement for Change (BizûtineweyGorran; also called Gorran), a party that lacks an armed branch. There are also small Kurdish Islamist parties. In previous elections, the Kurdish parties have put together joint lists, but in 2014 everyone participated with each candidate list to the parliament. However, they usually cooperate on issues related to the Kurdistan region’s autonomy towards the rest of Iraq. In 2018, the electoral cooperation resumed in the form of a joint list for the KDP, the PUK and the Kurdistan Communist Party. In northern Iraq, there are also strong armed groups that belong to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani, PKK), a group founded in Turkey that has been leading in the PUK-dominated northern Iraq for many years. The PKK has helped found a small Iraqi-Kurdish movement called the Kurdistan Party for the Democratic Solution (Partî Çareserî Dîmukratî Kurdistan, PCDK), but this has hardly any influence in Iraq. (For more on Kurdish politics, see Kurdistan.)
The smaller groups usually join their parties to the larger blocks. This applies, for example, to the Turkmen. Most Sunni Turkmen are found in the Iraqi Turkmen Front (Iraq Türkmen Cephesi; Iraqi Turkmen Front, ITF), which is closely linked to Turkey and has collaborated with Muttahidun. The Christian Iraqis were guaranteed five seats in Parliament and have their own parties, such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zawʻá Demoqraṭáyá ʼÁṯuráyá; often called Zowaa).
The Baath Party has continued to operate underground within the Sunni Arab resistance movement. The party is now divided into several factions. The group that plays the biggest role since Saddam Hussein’s 2006 execution was led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who was one of Saddam Hussein’s closest associates and has been reported killed several times. In recent years, the party has been in the dark behind the Naqshbandi army (or the Naqshbandi orderly’s army), an armed resistance movement that claims to represent Sufim Muslims, but is led by Duri and in fact serves as a front organization for his faction of Baath.
Within the Sunni Muslim minority, there are several other armed movements that formed after the 2003 US invasion and have refused to participate in the political process. These included the Mujahid army (Jaysh al-Mujahidin), the battalions of the 1920 revolution (Kataib Thawrat al-Ashrin), Iraq’s Islamic army (al-Jaysh al-Islami fil-Iraq) and Ansar al-Islam. Several of these organizations remain, but they have been greatly weakened since the Sahwa divisions in 2006-2007 (see Modern History) and Islamic State (IS) progress.
The United States attacks the city of al-Fallujah
A major US-led offensive is launched against al-Falluja, with supporters of the old regime and militant Islamists entrenched themselves. After a week, control of the city is said to have been restored.
Struggles between the United States and Shiamilis
Fierce fighting rages in Najaf between US forces and Shiite militia loyal to al-Sadr.
Temporary government is formed
The US hands over the regime of Iraq to an interim government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
American abuse is revealed
Image evidence is presented of abuses by American soldiers against Iraqi prisoners.
Shiites are fighting Americans
The Mahdi army, the radical Shiite preacher Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia groups, ends up fighting against US soldiers.
Massages on Shiites
140 Shia Muslims are killed by suicide bombers in connection with a festival in Karbala.
The Governing Council presents a provisional constitution.