The World Today for October 08, 2021


Cold Shoulders


Still stabilizing after years of occupation and civil war following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq faces momentous challenges. At the center of a combustible region, wedged between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, facing low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, the Middle Eastern country’s leaders have massive challenges and busy agendas.

Two years ago, tens of thousands of Iraqis expressed their frustration with the country’s leadership, decrying crumbling infrastructure, withering public services and corrupt and incompetent government. Officials responded with a bloody confrontation, the Guardian noted.

But these days, most Iraqi voters are apathetic – top religious leaders have been all but begging them to cast a ballot in elections on Oct. 10, Agence France-Presse reported. Voter turnout in the coming election was expected to fall to less than 45 percent – the turnout of the last election in 2018. The problem is, voters say democracy doesn’t really help them much.

“I see the politicians’ posters in the street but I don’t know the names or the programs,” an Iraqi man told the London-based Arab Weekly. “I think they all have the same program: ‘We will do this, we will do that.’ It’s all promises.”

The disinterest occurs even though Iraqi politics continue to reflect the country’s diversity, as Reuters illustrated. Shiite and Sunni Muslim-affiliated political parties, Kurdish politicians and activists who seek to throw out corrupt officials and revamp the state are all running for office.

Meanwhile, the low turnout eventually translates into a lack of popular support, opening the door to the two militarist movements that have been growing and jockeying for power in the wake of the exit of the US from the country in recent years, as Professor Haitham Numan of Gulf University Public Relations in Bahrain wrote in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

These groups include the Iran-backed Fatah alliance and the Sadrist Movement of Baghdad-based Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, a former foe of the US who is now one of the most powerful men in the country. Now Western diplomats see him as one of the best counterweights to Iranian influence in the country, the Financial Times said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an independent who took over after the civil unrest of 2019, is working hard to keep his job, Axios noted. He has, for example, hosted Iranian and Saudi leaders to cool tensions between the two regional rivals and raise his profile as an international mediator.

What happens after the election is anyone’s guess. Iraq usually defies predictions. Still, one thing is clear: The country is going nowhere fast.

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