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Is an era of nationalism beginning in Iraq?

On Saturday, Iraqis voted in their first national election since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State last year. Despite low voter turnout and lack of trust in the political establishment, there has been a surge in Iraqi nationalism and patriotism. Margaret Coker of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan from Baghdad for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Iraq held a national election today — the first since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in December. Results are expected within the next two days but it will likely be months before a prime minister is chosen and a new government is formed. For some analysis of what's at stake, I am joined via Skype from Baghdad by New York Times bureau chief Margaret Coker. Thanks for joining us. So, the good news is it that we haven't seen any widespread violence or attacks that something the country was concerned about for today?

  • MARGARET COKER:

    Right. It's pretty amazing actually. In 2014, a third of the nation had been overrun by Islamic State. People were talking about the end of Iraq and now we've had a national election, almost no violence, a few irregularities but people were pretty free to come and vote as they chose.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What did your reporter see out of the polling stations today?

  • MARGARET COKER:

    I was in Baghdad. I went around this big capital city to five or six different polling stations in different parts of the city and turnout was very low. You know, there is a general mood here of just utter exhaustion. There was enormous amount of battles, a lot of sacrifice a lot of lives lost over the last three and a half years. People are exhausted. And security is so good now that everyone is concerned again with quality of life issues — lack of infrastructure, a lack of schools, lack of jobs. And so you have all of these routine problems that appear overwhelming. But also there's a lack of trust in the political leadership about how these things can get solved. So the mood on the street is is pretty subdued.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk a little bit about kind of the the bigger picture, things that are happening in the background here. What is the role of perhaps, Iran, in the influence that Iran wields in Iraq right now? Or how long the United States will stay in Iraq and kind of what capacity?

  • MARGARET COKER:

    Yeah. So one of the amazing things about last fall and into the winter, when Iraq declared victory over Islamic State, there was this tremendous surge of patriotism and nationalism. People are proud again to the Iraqis and there's quite a lot of breathing space right now for Iraqi nationalists to come to the fore. People who either pulled one way towards Iran or pulled one way towards America, 10 years ago are now trying to reposition themselves politically as being nationalist first and in the middle of the political spectrum. And there's a very very strong sense among the Iraqi population that sectarianism, which they blame a lot for him all of the bloodshed that has befallen Iraq over the last decade, they say that the Arab sectarianism is over. And so, what that means in a coded fashion is that political parties that look too close to Iran or too close to any other of the regional powers, they're not going to do well in these polls.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Margaret Coker, The New York Times' bureau chief joining us via Skype from Baghdad. Thanks so much.

  • MARGARET COKER:

    You're welcome.

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