Iraq elections in regional Great Game

Iraq's first parliamentary elections since the defeat of ISIS were supposed to herald a return of stability to the country after 15 years of practically incessant war since the US invasion of 2003. But turn-out in the May 12 poll was at a mere 44%—a record low since 2003. And candidates were openly aligned with foreign powers playing for influence in Iraq. Incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, appears to be squeaking past more populist tickets seen to be in the sway of Iran. These include the State of Law coalition of current vice president and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who darkly warned that the results could be "rigged through electronic devices" as the returns started to come in. The ruling Dawa Party split into rival coalitions as Abadi and Maliki fell out, and a special law was passed in parliament allowing one party to run in competing lists. A third list, Fatah—headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigades paramilitary militia—is considered solidly pro-Tehran. But the surprise so far is the strong showing of the Sairoon (Marchers) bloc, led by Shi'iite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in an unlikely alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party. Independent of outside powers, Sadr played to resentment against the cronyism and corruption endemic to both factions of Dawa.

Iraq is now ranked the 11th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. And while the ISIS terror campaign has been at a relative lull in recent months, sectarian tensions simmer and the economy is stagnant. Much of the northern city of Mosul was reduced to rubble in the fighting to oust ISIS, and it will require billions of dollars to rebuild. And, of course, Baghdad's two main foreign backers, Washington and Tehran, are now bitterly at odds.  (CBC, AP, Al Jazeera, Al-ArabiyaMiddle East Eye; MEEMEE)

Abadi hailed the elections as an "historic day, spent peacefully by all Iraqis." But the next day, a local chieftain and one of his sons were killed in a dual roadside bomb attack in the village of al-Maslakha, Kirkuk governorate—a reminder that the ISIS insurgency is still not quelled. (Iraqi News, AP)