Updated May 14, 2018

Iraqi elections deepen political fault lines amid U.S.–Iran tensions

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate the results of the parliamentary election in Baghdad on May 13, 2018. Photo by Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turnout in the Iraqi election on Saturday hit a record low at less than 45%, down from 60% in the 2014 and 2010 elections. The public was disillusioned with the buffet of parties, whose members are seen as corrupt politicians vying for positions in a political bazaar after every election.

Why it matters: The product of ethno-sectarian power-sharing, past governments have been weak and ineffective. Iraqis wanted a new, corruption-free government that would offer services, jobs and security, and a victor with a clear agenda and a strong national mandate. Instead, this weekend’s elections only deepened the country's political fractures.

As identity politics failed to keep parties unified, intra-community factionalism emerged, with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish houses all internally divided and competing for votes. The winner this time around, Muktada al-Sadr, has about 55 of the 329 seats. In order to form a government, at least four of the major blocks will need to coalesce, but without a clear mandate or agenda, parties will resort to old practices of horse-trading for government positions and doling out patronage to their supporters.

Such a mismatch between demand for better, stronger government and the election results will keep Iraq in a vicious cycle. This time around, however, the system does not have the public support it hid behind in the past, foretelling public discontent and instability.

The big picture: These internal disputes are taking place as the two main foreign forces in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran, head toward greater hostility. The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the possibility of escalation, as well as the parliamentary gains made by former militia members, could turn Iraq once again into a war theater. Having just eased the horrors of ISIS, Iraq cannot stomach another round of such turmoil.

Bilal Wahab is the Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Go deeper

Coronavirus spreads to more countries, and South Korea ups its case count

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 41 mins ago - Health

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."

Situational awareness

Warren Buffett. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. Warren Buffett releases annual letter, reassures investors about future of Berkshire Hathaway
  2. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps
  3. U.S. military officially stops offensive operations in Afghanistan
  4. America's future looks a lot like Nevada
  5. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins