With few seats, Iraqi protest movement hopes to find voice in parliament |

NASIRIYAH, Iraq – For the first time in Iraq, a new generation of representatives is entering parliament, born from a civil society movement tired of the corruption that has long tarnished politics.

Among the newcomers is pharmacist Alaa al-Rikabi, 47, whose Imtidad (Extension) party emerged in the aftermath of the October 2019 protest movement against the ruling political elite.

Imtidad is positioning itself as “the opposition” to governments that have emerged through an informal ethno-sectarian quota system in place since the US-led invasion in 2003, Rikabi said.

Despite a campaign with extremely limited finances, the party won nine of the 329 seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives in the October 10 elections, according to preliminary results.

“I am aware that our size in parliament will not give us much leeway” to push forward a political agenda, said Ribaki, stressing that his party aims instead to play a watchdog role.

“We will not participate in any government set up on the basis of quotas, so we can hold the leaders to account,” Rikabi said from his home in Nassiriyah, a hot spot of protests in southern Iraq. Shiite majority.

Overall, the major political blocs retained their dominance in the election, which was marked by a record abstention rate.

The biggest winner was the Sadrist movement, led by incendiary Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr. He took 70 seats, according to the results which should be finalized within a few weeks.

Find allies

Behind the scenes, there were discussions about forming blocs to create a parliamentary majority that would distribute the next ministerial posts.

But it is precisely against this system that the protest movement and, by extension, the Imtidad was forged.

Imtidad is looking for its own alternative alliance to make its presence felt.

With only nine seats, the party “will not be able to expand its influence in parliament,” said Saleh al-Alawi, judge and political scientist.

Rikabi underlined that “according to the constitution, we need at least 25 deputies to be able to question a minister”.

To that end, he said, “we are trying to come to an understanding” to team up with other parties.

In particular, Imtidad is in talks with a small Kurdish party, the New Generation Movement, which has similar tendencies and also holds nine seats.

Protest movement

The unprecedented protest movement that erupted two years ago rose up against the political class who run this oil-rich but poverty-stricken country where youth unemployment is skyrocketing.

The streets of Nassiriyah still bear witness to anger, and posters of “martyrs” adorn the walls, honoring many of the hundreds of activists who have paid with their lives.

Factions of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary group integrated into the armed forces and represented by the pro-Iranian Fatah (Conquest) Alliance in parliament, have been accused of targeting militants.

Hussein Ali, 28, said he had been in a wheelchair for two years since being shot in the back during a protest.

“I voted for Imtidad because I hope they can fight for the rights of the demonstrators,” he said. “Since I was injured, I have not received any compensation from the government.

Changing “stereotypes”

Unlike many established Iraqi politicians, newcomers like Rikabi have little money and have had to run low cost campaigns.

Imtidad has spent four million dinars (about $ 2,700) on posters and events in Dhi Qar province, of which Nassiriyah is the capital, a fraction of the tens of millions often spent by major parties.

In order to break with what he calls the “representative stereotype”, disconnected from voters and reality, Rikabi drives his own car and does not have an office.

Others have been even more frugal, such as Mohammed al-Anouz, who has become known on social media for placing his own campaign posters in the Shiite sanctuary town of Najaf.

For him, opposition is the only option, he said.

“The major parties have contacted me to find out my position,” he said. “I will not form an alliance with the parties that have ruled the country in recent years.

“They are the ones who put us in this situation where there are no public services and there is corruption.”

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