Empowering Civil Society to Advocate for Citizens’ Views in Iraq

In Iraq, IRI supported CSOs to develop and pass legislation that addressed long-standing issues with provincial council elections. 

In the last 20 years, Iraqi CSOs played a vital role in assisting the government and citizens during crises including the internal displacement precipitated by the 2013-2017 ISIS (Islamic State) invasion. Despite these valuable efforts, Iraqi CSOs still suffer from the legacy of authoritarian rule which inhibited their operations. There have been few CSO-led initiatives focused on long-term democratic consolidation.

This year, IRI supported a cohort of Iraqi CSOs to launch a campaign advocating for reforms reflecting citizens’ views to the Provincial Council Elections Law. Provincial Councils are an integral part of Iraq’s constitutional framework and can play a vital role in advancing democracy by empowering citizens to choose local representatives. 

Recognizing this, IRI worked closely with its CSO cohort to conduct roundtables, focus group discussions, and a national survey to understand the perceptions of nearly 3,000 Iraqis. Based on this data, the cohort crafted 10 policy recommendations related to Provincial Council reform. To gain stakeholder support for the policy recommendations, the cohort held over 100 outreach events engaging legislative and executive authorities, holding discussions, and conducting mass mobilization workshops with community leaders. Their advocacy efforts also garnered local and national media attention, including through videos on social media that reached over 1 million views.  At the conclusion of the campaign, the cohort expanded their network to 285 CSOs, federations, media institutions, and legislative and executive authorities across Iraq, demonstrating the influence of a coordinated grassroots movement in encouraging democratic reform.

As a result of the IRI-supported advocacy campaign, Iraq’s parliament accepted two policy recommendations in March 2023. Parliament amended the Provincial Council Elections Law to stipulate that voters register using long-term biometric cards to reduce fraud and to ensure timely announcement of initial election results. The success of this first-of-its-kind civil society-led campaign to advance citizen-responsive legislation highlights how civil society can build momentum for change.

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