Iraq Oil Report's Daily Brief compiles the most important news and analysis about Iraq from around the web.

Questions Mount About Possible Fraud in Iraq Vote

Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan write for The Wall Street Journal:

The United Nations and Iraqi political leaders on Thursday called for investigating electoral-fraud complaints and sought manual recounts in some districts, as questions intensified about the legitimacy of the country’s recent parliamentary vote.

Overall, the recounts being sought aren’t expected to affect the surprising election results from Saturday, when Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s coalition won the most seats. But the fraud claims have delayed the official tally of the vote and deepened Iraqis mistrust in the electoral process, which saw turnout fall to its lowest level since the country became a democracy fifteen years ago.

Less than 45% of voters participated in the election, a low number considered a factor in Mr. Sadr’s victory because his largely poor, dedicated followers showed up when other politicians’ bases stayed home. Mr. Sadr’s militias had fought against the U.S. following the 2003 invasion and were accused of sectarian atrocities but he has forged a more mainstream path in recent years.

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Iraq cuts ties with US sanctioned bank

The National reports:

Iraq’s central bank on Thursday cut ties with an Iraqi bank and its director after they were targeted by new US sanctions against entities linked to Iran.

Local media reported that the Central Bank of Iraq ordered the country's financial institutions to cease dealing with Al-Bilad Islamic Bank for Investment and Finance, and its CEO Aras Habib Karim, after they were added to a US Treasury sanctions list on Tuesday.

Mr Karim is also Secretary General of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and ran in last week’s election allied with Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s Victory coalition. He spoke out after being added to the US sanctions list for allegedly helping provide support to designated terrorists, calling the designation politically motivated.

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Iraqis protest in Kirkuk over alleged voting fraud

Emad Matti reports for AP:

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside an election office in this northern Iraqi city Wednesday to protest alleged fraud in last week's parliamentary elections.

The head of Iraq's national election commission said at a news conference that armed men had taken over the election office and that the workers inside were "in effect, hostages," but local officials and witnesses disputed that account, saying there was no sign of weapons at what appeared to be a peaceful demonstration.

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The Man Who Could Shape Iraq’s Future

Krishnadev Calamur writes for The Atlantic:

Moqtada al-Sadr won’t be Iraq’s next prime minister, but he may very well decide who is. It’s a striking outcome for the Shia cleric who forged a reputation as a radical in the insurgency he led against the U.S. after the invasion of 2003, and who then defined himself as an Iraqi nationalist through his defiance of Iran. Over this period, Sadr has become an insider in Iraqi politics, but ahead of the country’s Saturday parliamentary elections he fashioned himself into an anti-corruption crusader and political outsider by building a coalition that includes communists, Sunnis, and political independents. His al-Sairoon Coalition (The Marchers) finished first in the vote, ensuring his relevance for years to come.

Al-Sairoon’s performance suggests that Iraq, which has only recently emerged from a brutal conflict against ISIS, might be tired of the political class that has governed the country since its first parliamentary elections in 2005. What’s not clear, however, is whether Sadr, whose brand is predicated on protest and opposition, can evolve into a constructive force in Iraqi politics.

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Sacked defence minister shrugs off corruption impeachment in election resurgence

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s ousted defence minister, who was controversially dismissed over corruption allegations, has made a roaring comeback in the country's elections.

Khalid Al Obeidi led Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's Victory alliance in Ninewa in Saturday's polls, winning eight out of the province's 31 seats in the 328 seat parliament, demonstrating the enduring support for Mosul’s military man.

On Monday, Mr Al Obeidi led a triumphant press conference to announce that the Victory alliance had won more seats than any other in Ninewa, although he cautioned the count was still preliminary.

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Iraqi Election Front-Runner Moktada al-Sadr Courts Partners to Govern

Margaret Coker writes for The New York Times:

The front-runner in Iraqi elections, the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, wasted little time trying to prove to potential allies that he is serious about shaking up the government and cleaning up corruption as he worked to cobble together a governing coalition.

His spokesman, Saleh al-Obeidi, said in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday that Mr. Sadr’s movement is seeking allies who agree to its three-plank manifesto: ending the practice of awarding ministries on sectarian quotas, fighting corruption and allowing independent technocrats to manage key government agencies.

“Sai’id Moktada wants to bring Iraq out of crisis and out of misery,” Mr. Obeidi said, using an honorific. “We want to start a whole new way of doing things.”

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Iraq’s Abadi congratulates Sadr on election performance

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi telephoned Moqtada Al Sadr on Tuesday in what appeared to be a political concession after the Shiite cleric took the largest number of parliamentary seats in the country's weekend election.

Final results have been delayed amid allegations of vote rigging in northern Iraq, with some Kurdish parties demanding a re-run of the weekend's poll.

A statement from Mr Al Sadr’s office said the premier praised the cleric for helping foster “a secure, democratic atmosphere,” during the campaign and vote.

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Firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadr’s alliance holds a surprise lead in Iraq elections

Nabih Bulos reports for LA Times:

An alliance led by Muqtada Sadr, the anti-U.S. firebrand cleric-turned-reformist, was leading Iraq's parliamentary elections in preliminary results announced early Monday.

A victory for Sadr would be a major upset for Prime Minister Haider Abadi, who led the country during its four-year battle against Islamic State and is supported by the U.S. and other Western nations.

Abadi was widely seen as the front-runner. But with the vote tallied in 10 of the country's 19 provinces, he was in third, well behind both Sadr and an alliance of paramilitary factions, many of which are supported by Iran and led by Shiite militia leader Hadi Ameri.

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As Iraq moves on with vote, Falluja trapped by sins of the past

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

Braving a nationwide driving ban, hundreds of Iraqis walked through Falluja and stepped over barbed wire surrounding a school to vote in a parliamentary election they hope will help a city far from recovering from years of conflict and upheaval.

For them the election is not merely the first since the Islamic State militants who seized their city four years ago were defeated. Falluja’s suffering is multi-layered.

It is also the first vote since U.S. troops who invaded Iraq in 2003 and pulverized much of their city in an offensive against insurgents left the country in 2011.

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A Shia Cleric’s Radical Vision for Iraq

Krishnadev Calamur writes for The Atlantic:

Soon after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, a CBS News crew interviewed a young Shia cleric who explained what was happening in his country this way: “The little serpent has left,” Moqtada al-Sadr said, referring to the ousted dictator, “and the great serpent [the United States] has come.”

In the early days of the post-Saddam era, U.S. military officials variously described Sadr as an “annoyance” and a “thug.” But he quickly transformed himself into an influential—and controversial—figure. His fighters committed brutal atrocities in the post-invasion violence, fought the U.S. military in Sadr City and Basra, and were known for their corruption. A 2006 Newsweek cover story even labeled Sadr “the most dangerous man in Iraq.” Fifteen years after the fall of Saddam, Sadr, now 44 years old, is warily viewed as a potential kingmaker in Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Saturday. In a country riven by sectarian tensions and regional politics, Sadr has transformed himself again: He has now positioned himself as an Iraqi nationalist; allied himself with communists, Sunnis, and political independents; criticized Iran’s outsized influence in Iraq; and strongly criticized the sectarian nature of Iraq’s politics.

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