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Iraqi protesters demand election recount in Baghdad

Iraqi security forces stand guard outside the heavily fortified Green Zone while protesters denounce election results and call for a manual recount of the November 10 parliamentary vote, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Pro-Iran factions in Iraq suffered significant losses in the parliament elections. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Hundreds of supporters of Iraq’s powerful Hashd al-Shaabi – a pro-Iranian former paramilitary force – protested on Tuesday against “fraud” at recent parliamentary elections in which their movement performed poorly.

The Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, the political arm of the multiparty Hashd, won about 15 seats in the October 10 vote, according to preliminary results.

In the last parliament, it held 48 seats, making it the second-largest bloc.

Several hundred Hashd al-Shaabi supporters gathered on a Baghdad street leading to the entrance of the high-security Green Zone, home to the US embassy, other diplomatic missions, and government offices.

The demonstrators chanted slogans against the United States and the normalisation of ties with Israel.

“No to fraud, no to America,” supporters chanted. Hashd al-Shaabi demands the withdrawal of all American forces from the country.

They also denounced United Nations officials responsible for monitoring the elections and helping to prevent voter fraud.

A 25-year-old man wearing a black anti-COVID mask and sunglasses said he was protesting against electoral “fraud”.

“The objective of the fraud is clear … It is the dissolution of the Hashd,” he said, declining to be identified.

Hashd al-Shaabi supporters have organised sporadic protests across the country in recent days. On Sunday, they burned tyres and blocked roads south and north of Baghdad.

‘Military individuals’

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdel Wahed, reporting from Baghdad, said supporters of the losing parties set up tents across a road that leads to the Green Zone.

“They want the high national elections commission to conduct a recount of the votes,” Abdel Wahed said.

“They say they do not have any confidence in the election commission, accusing [it] … of vote-rigging, of manipulating the election” he added.

Protesters also say there have been “international and foreign parties” that have intervened in the results of the election, Abdel Wahed said.

Protesters at the site are mostly “military individuals” commanded by members of the losing political parties. “They say they will continue their strike until the votes are recounted manually,” he said.

Activists accuse the Hashd’s armed forces – whose 160,000 fighters are now integrated into Iraq’s state security forces – of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.

The big winner in the vote – with more than 70 seats in the 329-seat parliament, according to the initial count – was the movement of Moqtada Sadr, a Shia-Muslim leader who campaigned as a nationalist and critic of Iran.

Hashd leaders have rejected the results as a “scam” and said they will appeal in advance of a final tally expected in the next few weeks.

On Saturday, several Shia parties toughened their tone, accusing the electoral commission of not correcting “major violations” in the vote count, and blaming it for “the failure of the electoral process”, warning of negative repercussions on democracy.

The Hashd is still expected to carry weight in parliament through the cooptation of independent candidates and other alliances.

Under Iraq’s laws, the party that wins the most seats gets to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely any of the competing coalitions can secure a clear majority.

That will require a lengthy process involving backroom negotiations to select a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government.

The early elections on October 10 were the first since 2018 and saw a turnout of 41 per cent, the lowest level in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

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