The country's infrastructure and state institutions are in decline. Paramilitary groups with powerful capabilities increasingly challenge the authority of the government, and hundreds of thousands are still displaced by the years of war against Islamic State.
Although few Iraqis are expecting significant change in their daily lives, the elections to the Iraqi parliament will determine the direction of Iraqi foreign policy at this crucial time in the Middle East.
Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi-American research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, stated that "Iraq will have its elections to be watched by everyone in the region to determine the country's future leaders will sway regional power balance."
In response to the mass protests in 2019, the elections will be held earlier than usual. Because of the demands of the street protestors in Iraq, this is the first time that a vote has been held. A new election law allows for independent candidates and divides Iraq into smaller constituents. Another demand from the young activists is that the vote be held under this law.
An earlier U.N. Security Council resolution authorized an increased team to monitor the election. Up to 600 international observers will be present, 150 of which will come from the United Nations.
Iraq will also introduce biometric voting cards for the first time. To prevent double voting, electronic voter cards will be disabled for 72 hours after each vote.
Despite all of these measures, the claims of vote buying and intimidation have not stopped.
As a result, the electoral landscape is dominated by groups drawn from Iraq's Shiite factions. This has been the case ever since Saddam's fall, when Iraq's power base changed from minor Sunnis to majority Shiites.
However, Shiite groups remain divided over Iran's influence, which is a Shiite powerhouse. The political bloc of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, who was the largest winner in 2018, and the Fatah Alliance, led by Hadi al-Ameri (second), are expected to be in a tight race.
The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties that are affiliated to the Popular Mobilization Forces. This umbrella group, which consists mainly of pro-Iran Shiite militias, rose to prominence during war against Sunni extremist Islamic State. It also includes the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the most pro-Iran factions. Al-Sadr is a populist and nationalist leader who is also close to Iran but publicly denies its political influence.
Kataib Hezbollah is a Shiite militia that has close ties with Iran and is now fielding candidates for the first time.
Young Iraqis and activists who participated in the demonstrations for change are divided on whether they should vote.
Over a few months, at least 600 people were killed in the face during the 2019 protests. Although the authorities called early elections and allowed protestors to vote, the high death toll and brutal crackdown caused many young activists and demonstrators to call for a boycott.
Many people have been discouraged from participating in the kidnappings and targeted assassinations , which resulted in more than 35 deaths.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is a highly respected authority and top Shiite cleric in Iraq. He has called for large turnout. He believes that voting is the best way for Iraqis participate in shaping their future.
With only 44% of eligible voters voting, the 2018 election saw a record low turnout. These results were highly contested.
This time, there are concerns about a similar or lower turnout.
Mustafa al-Jabouri is a private sector worker aged 27 who says he won’t vote because he saw his friends die in the protests "in front my eyes."
"I have been a voter in every election since the age of 18. "We always believe that things will get better and change will happen. He said this as he smoked a hookah in a Baghdad coffee shop while he observed that everything goes from bad to worse. "Now, it's the same faces of the same parties that are putting up campaign signs."
The vote in Iraq comes amid diplomatic activity in the region. This was partly fueled by the gradual retreat of the Biden administration from the Middle East, and its icy relations to traditional ally Saudi Arabia. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the current Prime Minister, has tried to portray Iraq as a neutral mediator in regional crises. Baghdad hosted several rounds in recent months of direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to try to ease tensions .
Alshamary, the research associate, stated that Arab states will watch to see which pro-Iranian groups make gains in the vote, and vice versa, Iran will examine how Western-leaning political leaders fare. She said that the outcome of these elections would have a lasting impact on regional relations for many years.
The laws of Iraq allow the winner of Sunday’s vote to elect the next prime minister. However, it is unlikely that any of the competing alliances will be able to secure a clear majority. This will be a long process that involves backroom negotiations in order to choose a consensus prime minster and agree on a new coalition.
Randa Slim of the Washington-based Middle East Institute stated that Iraq's role as a regional mediator is al-Kadhimi’s accomplishment. This is due to his ability to balance between U.S. interests and Iranian ones in Iraq.
Slim stated that if Slim isn't the next prime minister, then all these initiatives may not be sustained.