Iraq's Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) announced on Friday, August 10, that the Saairun coalition - affiliated with populist Shi'a cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr - retained its 54-seat lead in the parliamentary election recount, positioning Sadr to play a key role in forming the next government. A group of Shi'a militia leaders, the Al-Fatih bloc, remained in second with 48 seats, following incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi's bloc with 42 seats.
Meanwhile, social tensions remain high with protests continuing into a second month in Baghdad and southern provinces, as of August 10. Sadr has supported the demonstrations calling for improved public services, among other things, and has issued a list of conditions that he will require the new prime minister to meet. Continued demonstrations are possible in southern Iraq and Baghdad in the coming days. Heightened security measures and localized traffic disruptions are to be expected near protest sites.
The Iraqi parliament ordered a nationwide manual recount of the May 12 election results after Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, citing a government report, claimed that there were "dangerous violations" during the vote. The recount upheld the Saairun Coalition's lead in the parliamentary elections where it won 1.3 million votes and gained 54 seats in the 329-seat parliament. None of the competing blocs won a majority in parliament nor have the ability to name a prime minister alone.
The ongoing protests, focused in southern Iraq, began on July 8 to denounce corruption, unemployment, and the perceived inadequate provision of public services, such as water and electricity. Protests have since spread to Baghdad and have left at least 14 demonstrators dead and over 700 wounded as of August 9. During the July protests, Iraqi authorities restricted access to the Internet across the country to suppress protest activity.
Individuals in Iraq are advised to closely monitor the situation, avoid all protests and large public gatherings as a precaution, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities.
The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Although travel is possible in some areas with proper security protocols in place, other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.