Despite persistent ISIS threats against the general elections held on 30 April, increased security precautions managed to contain some of the expected violence and encourage Iraqis to cast their ballots, with a relatively high turnout established at 59% by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). As a telling illustration of this enthusiastic political participation, turnout reached 30% in violence-ridden Anbar, and all Sunni-dominated provinces displayed similarly positive figures. Meanwhile, the percentage of recorded irregularities and violations did not reach levels prompting a questioning of the results, which are not expected for weeks. Political participation was backed by a moderate improvement in the security situation, with an unusual absence of car bombs in Baghdad and a noticeable lull in the number of incidents recorded nationwide. Despite these encouraging signs, a few attacks targeted polling stations located in northern governorates, resulting in scores of civilian and ISF casualties.
The high proportion of voters is also unlikely to translate into a clear-cut majority, as the campaign was highly divisive, especially between the various Shia parties opposed to the ruling State of Law coalition. In return, electoral results will largely determine the composition of post-election coalitions, with leading parties expected to leverage their seats in parliament to obtain concessions from the government. In anticipation of a complicated and opaque process which is set to last months and will result in greater institutional instability and political stagnation, the KRG announced the start of oil exports to Turkey, in defiance of Baghdad which remains opposed to any independent trade between Kurdistan and its neighbours. As government resources will now be focused on the post-election phase aimed at forming the next cabinet, drastic measures and needed reforms are unlikely to be advanced, and inaction should be reflected in continued violence over the next weeks.
Despite a decrease in incidents recorded across northern governorates, with a near-absence of VBIEDs, violence levels remained high and continued to plague Sunni-dominated areas around Baghdad. This relative and unaccustomed peace, especially throughout the elections which were expected to draw a considerable amount of militant resources to further destabilise the country, is only temporary and failed to mask the few deadly incidents that hit restive Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces. On 04 May, a car bomb detonated in the vicinity of Mosul, causing dozens of casualties, while ten people were reportedly killed when a VBIED exploded in Tuz Khurmatu. The nature and intensity of incidents recorded in Kirkuk and Diyala remained consistent with previous weekly averages, with series of IEDs targeting roads, checkpoints and polling stations. Meanwhile, and as Kurdish provinces remained insulated from major militant attacks, the elections coincided with the announcement that oil exports with Turkey would resume, despite the firm disapproval of Baghdad. As government resources will now be centred on managing the post-election phase, Kurdish authorities are expected to capitalise on opportunities to pursue their own policies. While increased security measures have probably deterred militants from striking key Sunni areas, violence is expected to rapidly increase over the next weeks, with incident levels set to equal previous averages.
While Baghdad remained one of the most restive governorates throughout the reporting period, levels of violence substantially decreased in and around the capital, with a rare absence of VBIEDs and a significantly lower rate of IED attacks. This change in security dynamics was mostly triggered by the presence of ISF forces to protect the main roads and preserve polling stations from militant attacks, as a peaceful voting process in the capital was seen as crucial to legitimise the upcoming election results. However, post-election incidents recorded in Baghdad consolidated predictions that violence will return to previous levels within the next weeks. On 03 May, an attack against a bus carrying Shia pilgrims returning from Samarra killed 11 people and wounded 21 in a northern area of Baghdad.
Violence in central provinces continued to be dominated by the Anbar crisis, which remained a focal point for clashes, shelling and sophisticated assaults. On 05 May, shelling on Fallujah caused 26 civilian casualties, while a car bomb struck a checkpoint in Ramadi on 04 May. Insurgent-controlled areas generally remained unaffected by the ISF operations established to protect the polls, with government forces concentrating efforts on areas within their reach.
Despite an elevated level of threat with regard to the elections held in the Shia-dominated southern provinces, violence remained consistent with previous weekly averages and the majority of incidents were confined to Babil. While the voting process was largely insulated from militant attacks, violence noticeably ramped up in the aftermath of the elections, with a significant number of IED incidents recorded in districts of Babil. A series of bombings against roads and army patrols caused dozens of casualties within the ISF and civilian population. As Iraq’s political environment over the next weeks will be defined by a period of coalition-building in which rival Shia parties will draw most of the attention, tensions could gradually increase in southern governorates, with intra-Shia violence potentially influencing the formation of alliances. South-eastern provinces are nonetheless expected to remain peaceful in the short-term.