Freedom in the World
Iraq’s political rights rating improved from 6 to 5 due to free and competitive provincial elections in early 2009 and an increase in the Iraqi government’s autonomy as U.S. troops began their phased withdrawal.
Iraq successfully held provincial elections in January 2009, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Da’wa party emerging as the biggest winner. The parliament in November managed to pass legislation that would govern the scheduled 2010 national elections, but a veto by the presidency council threatened to hold up the polls, forcing lawmakers to pass a revised law in December. Also during the year, U.S. forces transferred security responsibilities to their Iraqi counterparts and began withdrawing from the country under a new bilateral security agreement. There were a series of sectarian killings and deadly attacks on government institutions in 2009, but widespread violence remained at an ebb.
Other attacks during the year focused on Iraqi government sites. The police academy was bombed in March, as were the offices of the Iraqi army. Insurgents attacked government food-distribution centers in April, and police officers at checkpoints across the country were targeted immediately after Ramadan. In October, the deadliest bombing in two years struck the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad provincial council complex, killing over 150 people and wounding more than 500.
Iraq is not an electoral democracy. Although it has conducted meaningful elections, the country remains under the influence of a foreign military presence and impairments caused by sectarian and insurgent violence.Under the constitution, the president and two vice presidents are elected by the parliament and appoint the prime minister, who is nominated by the largest parliamentary bloc. Elections are held every four years. The prime minister forms a cabinet and runs the executive functions of the state. The parliament consists of a 275-seat lower house, the Council of Representatives, and a still-unformed upper house, the Federal Council, which would represent provincial interests. The lower house is set to expand to 325 seats in 2010. Political parties representing a wide range of viewpoints operate without restrictions, but the Baath party is officially banned. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI), whose nine-member board was selected by a UN advisory committee, has sole responsibility for administering elections.