Political parties representing armed groups backed by Iran suffered a resounding defeat in the Iraqi legislative elections held October 10, with voters desperate for an economic recovery rather than shows of military muscle.
Preliminary results announced by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) show the Fatah alliance -- the political wing of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) -- lost more than half of its 48 deputies.
The alliance, led by Hadi al-Ameri, won just 18 seats in the next parliament, after having won 45 seats in the 2018 elections, the first it entered.
The Fatah alliance includes most of the blocs representing militias loyal to Iran, notably the Badr bloc, the political wing of the Badr Organisation, and al-Sadiqoun bloc, affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
At an October 12 press conference, Kataib Jund al-Imam militia leader Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the alliance, said the bloc rejected the results.
The Huqooq party, formed by Kataib Hizbullah, won only one seat, which prompted its leader, Hussein Mounis, to declare his rejection of the election results and question the vote counting processes.
Kataib Hizbullah spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari asked all militias to "prepare for a sensitive stage" -- a statement viewed as an explicit threat of escalation.
Analysts say the results show the Fatah alliance has failed to live up to the political expectations of Iraqis, with opposition activists accusing affiliated militias of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression.
The Fatah MPs also are seen as lacking a vision for economic development.
Rejected on the Iraqi street
For political scientist Ihsan al-Shamari, the weaponry of the 160,000 strong paramilitary alliance was "a main cause" of its poor showing.
Its close ties with Iran and several instances of "appearing to be above the state" also damaged its popularity, al-Shamari said.
According to a source from within the pro-Iran camp, paramilitary leaders have quarrelled and blamed each other for the debacle over having run rival candidates, thus fragmenting the vote.
"The different parties tried to impose their own candidate in the same constituency and the votes were lost," the source told AFP.
The leaders of parties putting forward an agenda that favours Iran must accept their rejection by the Iraqi street, said Sheikh Muzahim al-Huweit, a spokesman for the Arab tribes in Ninawa.
Their resounding defeat in the elections made this clear, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The talk of escalation is an attempt to pressure and cover up the disastrous failure they experienced," he said.
This is to be expected from the militias, who look for any opportunity to stir up problems, he added, noting that the elections were transparent and fair.
Iraqis voted freely, he said, and their votes "punished all the unruly armed militias that harmed them and the corrupt who stole their wealth".
He praised the role of Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi's government in ensuring that the voting process was completed peacefully.
Though the turnout rate was rather low, at just 41%, United Nations and international monitors said the elections had been free and fair.
Contending with al-Sadr
The Sadrist bloc, led by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been critical of Iran, won the majority of parliamentary seats, garnering 73 seats out of 329.
Sadr had initially vowed to boycott the polls but then sent his movement into the race.
The Taqaddum bloc, led by former parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, won 38 seats, while the State of Law bloc, led by former premier Nuri al-Maliki, came in third with 37 seats.
It is expected that al-Sadr, who keeps his distance from the Iranian axis but has never explicitly antagonised it, will face fierce competition from the Iran-loyal hardliners, who could at least impede the formation of the next government.
"The results give al-Sadr an upper hand when it comes to politics and his negotiating position, but that is not the only thing that is important here," said Renad Mansour of the Chatham House think-tank.
The paramilitary bloc "has lost political power by losing seats, but it still has coercive power, and that will be used in the bargaining", he said.
Despite the implicit "threat of violence", Mansour said he does not predict an escalation, but he warned: "That doesn't mean that each side won't use threats and sometimes violence... to show that it has that power."
A new political map
Among many Iraqis, the mood on Iranian interference has soured, and al-Sadr voiced that sentiment after the election.
He attacked "the resistance", the name pro-Iran armed groups give themselves.
"Arms should be in the hands of the state and their use outside of that framework prohibited, even for those who claim to be from the resistance," he said in a clear reference to the paramilitary bloc.
After the final authentication of the election results, "a new political map" will be drawn in Iraq by the large blocs that won the elections, said al-Mustansiriya University political science professor Issam al-Faily.
Despite anticipated obstacles and stalling, "in the end, a government will be formed", he told Al-Mashareq. "We also hope that there will be a strong opposition that monitors and enhances the government's performance."
This will include independents who are not linked to partisan agendas, as well as representatives of the popular protest movement, he said.
The independents and movements that emanated from the protests, such as Imtidad, won 15 seats. Al-Faily said this representation is not strong enough, but it is "effective, and is a sign of the beginning of change and reform".