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DPA Backgrounders, Features, & Analyses of the Governorate Elections in Irak

Deutsche Presse Agentur have published a series of articles on the forthcoming Governorate Elections. I have grouped them by type as follows:

  • Backgrounders
  • Features
  • Analyses

The articles provide a good introduction to the elections for the foreign reader looking for a good general to the issues for Irak raised by the elections. Crossposted with minor editing from Gorilla’s Guides

Mohammed Ibn Laith

BACKGROUND: Key provinces in Iraq provincial elections 2009:

Baghdad – A selection of key provinces in the Iraqi provincial council elections, due to take place on January 31.

Baghdad The capital of Iraq and a city of some 6.5 million people, Baghdad has been the focus of the five-year war, and scene of some of the worst sectarian atrocities. Its demographic make-up has shifted as a result. Ongoing security worries threaten to tarnish the vote. The key contest will be between candidates aligned with Sunni tribal councils, and the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is currently in government, especially in the city’s western suburbs.

Salah al-Din Forty-five political entities – parties and coalitions, with more than 600 candidates – are competing for the 28 seats on Salah al-Din’s provincial council. The province of some 1 million has been governed since 2005 by Kurdish parties, despite having a majority Sunni Arab population, as Arabs boycotted the 2005 poll. But with Sunni Arabs now expected to take part in the vote, Kurdish parties stand to lose out. Salah al-Din contains the city of Tikrit – Saddam Hussein’s home town.

Anbar Because of Anbar’s one-time status as the hub of the Iraqi insurgency, the province will be closely watched as a barometer of the country’s fledgling democracy. Anbar security forces took over from the US in 2008, and fierce campaigning between tribal council affiliates and the incumbent Iraqi Islamic Party is underway. The IIP have been accused of mismanagement and corruption, a charge which they hotly deny. The government party has also managed to secure an alliance in the province with Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, an important tribal leader.

Read in full: BACKGROUND: Key provinces in Iraq provincial elections 2009

BACKGROUND: Iraq’s voting system for provincial council elections:

Baghdad – Election systems very often confirm the proverb that God – or the Devil – is in the details. For the elections to 14 of Iraq’s 18 Provincial Councils due to take place on January 31, a so-called ‘open-list proportional representation’ system has been chosen.

Proportional representation (PR) attempts to allocate seats in a legislature with as much correlation as possible to the votes that the political parties or candidates actually receive, thereby – theoretically – ensuring true democratic representation.

The particular open-list system to be used now for the first time in Iraq will mean that when a voter goes to the polling booth to cast his or her vote for the provincial council, the voter can choose to cast his or her one vote for either a political party (or coalition), or an individual candidate.

The seats in the provincial council will then be allocated firstly to the parties or coalitions based on how many votes they or their affiliated candidates received.

The order in which these quotas are filled by individuals will then be decided on the basis of how many votes a party’s individual candidates received.

Read in full: BACKGROUND: Iraq’s voting system for provincial council elections

BACKGROUND: Power brokers in the January 31 provincial elections:

Baghdad – Key Iraqi political leaders

Nuri al-Maliki Iraq’s Prime Minister and secretary-general of the Daawa party, al-Maliki’s political career began as a Shiite dissident under the regime of Saddam Hussein. He fled the country fearing assassination in 1979 and served the Daawa party in exile in Syria and Iran until Saddam’s ouster in 2003. Since becoming prime minister in May 2006, al-Maliki (58) has strengthened Iraq’s central government and security forces, at times being accused of strongarm tactics.

Sayyid Abdul Aziz al-Hakim A graduate of the renowned Hawza Shiite theological school in Najaf, 56-year-old Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest party in the national parliament. Al-Hakim’s family suffered particularly in Iraq’s long political struggles, and lost six brothers to assassinations ordered by Saddam Hussein. Having been imprisoned three times for insurgency activities under Saddam, al-Hakim went into exile in 1980. Due to his clerical status, he does not hold a post in the Iraqi government.

Jalal Talabani Jalal Talabani is the president of federal Iraq and the country’s leading Kurdish politician. For more than 50 years, Talabani, (75), has forged a political path for Kurds within Iraq, as well as developing relations between the country’s ethnic groups. However, questions have been raised about his health, and the succession within his own party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Kurdish parties stand to lose seats in a number of mixed provinces where Arab turnout is expected to be much higher than in the last provincial vote.

Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr Another former student of the Hawza school, 35-year-old Muqtada al-Sadr has gone from being a persistent thorn in the side of the US occupation of Iraq into one of the al-Maliki government’s most persistent critics. Despite his personal militia – the Mahdi Army – being somewhat enervated by Maliki’s troops in March 2008, when the government regained control of Basra’s streets, al-Sadr can still mobilize tens of thousands in support of his political aims. On one hand, Sadrists stand to lose votes in Basra because of the new-found popularity of al-Maliki. On the other, rumours exist that the cleric, who was once known as ‘Mullah Atari’ for his love of video games, is planning an alliance with the Daawa party for the January 31 poll.

Tariq al-Hashimi Tariq al-Hashimi (66) is one of Iraq’s most visible Sunni politicians, being one of two vice-presidents and the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main part of the Tawafuq coalition. However, the power-base of Hashimi or his party in the Sunni parts of Iraq is far from assured. In places like Anbar, Hashimi’s incumbent party is having to defend against fierce campaigning from the new political fronts of the Awakening Councils movement, which emerged in opposition to al-Qaeda in 2006. Al-Hashimi is a strong opponent of greater federalization in Iraq, and has also spoken out against de-Baathification, although was never a member of Saddam’s party himself.

Read in full: BACKGROUND: Power brokers in the January 31 provincial elections

Features: 

Secular and sacred face off in Iraq’s provincial contest (Feature):

Throughout Iraq’s provincial election campaign, the campaign posters of secular candidates can be seen across the country side by side with those of the well-financed religious powers.

This cohabitation is a new phenomenon, and highlights the subtle but increasingly important struggle between the more established religious parties and newer secular forces.

Religious groups are participating in these elections with greater financial resources and regional support, with much of it believed to be coming from Iran.

On the other side, secular parties are banking on popular disenchantment with the performance of the clerical coalitions, who dominated the last provincial vote in 2005.

In Najaf, the hub of Shiite political power in Iraq, a striking phenomenon is that most of the 57 political groups and 1,070 candidates competing for 41 seats are nominally ‘independent’.

Even on religious lists, there are numerous independent candidates.

The phenomenon is widespread. Observers say that independent candidates are seeking to take advantage of widespread dissatisfaction with religious parties in power that have failed to provide basic public services for much of their provinces.

Read in full: Secular and sacred face off in Iraq’s provincial contest (Feature)

From insurgency to candidacy: Diyala’s security dilemma (Feature):

It is election season in Baquba, the capital of Iraq’s volatile and ethnically mixed Diyala province, and formerly one of the main battlefields in the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The streets are festooned with posters and stickers, often in layers, as political partisans rip competitors’ posters down and replace them with their own.

Candidates make speeches, bestow gifts, and listen to the voters at gatherings around the city.

Six hundred candidates are running for 29 seats in Baquba’s local government. More than 500 voting centres have been set up to accommodate what election officials hope will be record participation.

‘Baquba has election fever. This election is all people can talk about at home, in the street, and in schools. People are hoping for wide participation,’ Ahmed Mohammed, a 37-year-old factory worker from Baquba, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Read in full: From insurgency to candidacy: Diyala’s security dilemma (Feature)

Push for power brings back Mosul’s dark legacy (Feature):

Mosul – The river Tigris bisects Mosul, the capital of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh. On the western bank is the old city, the centre of Nineveh’s majority Sunni population.

The suburbs and villages to the east and to the north are largely Kurdish, but are also home to a patchwork of one of the most diverse mixes of Iraqis anywhere in the country.

For years, pockets of almost every religious and ethnic community in Iraq – Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Yazidi Kurds, Turkomans, Chaldean Christians, Nestorian Christians, Armenians, and Shabaks – lived in relative harmony here.

But after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, it was Mosul that provided one of the first preludes to the dark sectarian strife that was to descend on Iraq in the years to come.

Now, as Nineveh prepares to vote in provincial council elections, Mosul has seen a series of sectarian attacks and bitter recriminations that have stoked fears that the elections could bring simmering sectarian rivalries back to a boil.

Kurdish parties have long sought to incorporate northern and eastern Nineveh into the semi-autonomous region controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government.

Read in full: Push for power brings back Mosul’s dark legacy (Feature)

Exiled Iraqi Christians await polls with fear, frustration (Feature):

Mosul – Fifty three-year-old Umm Farah, a mother of three, had no choice but to flee from Mosul to Baghdad on a wintry night. Like many others, she says, she was subject to death threats simply because she is a Christian.

As the country heads into an election period widely hoped to deliver stability and greater democratic representation, Iraq’s Christian community is barely emerging from a wave of sectarian murder and intimidation.

Despite a reduction in violence in previously incendiary provinces such as Anbar, Mosul had become a locus of al-Qaeda militant activity by late 2008.

‘Although Iraq’s security had improved, we are still living through brutal days. We have lost our safety and security forever,’ said Umm Farah.

Mosul is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the Chaldean. Between September and November of 2008, dozens of Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul were murdered, seemingly only because of their ethnic identity.

More than one million Christians are believed to have fled the country since the US-led invasion of 2003, an event which has unlocked unprecedented sectarian hatred in the region.

Against the violent backdrop, Iraqi Christians go into this election period also in frustration at the machinations of Baghdad politics.

Early drafts of the Provincial Election Law, passed in late 2008, would have seen Christians and other minorities guaranteed greater representation in the provincial councils, under Article 50 of the text.

However, the element was removed by parliament through the pressure of majority parties.

Read in full:  Exiled Iraqi Christians await polls with fear, frustration (Feature)

Against the odds: Women struggle for a fair share in Iraq (Feature):

Baghdad- In the final days of Iraq’s provincial elections campaign, women’s rights advocates across the country are pressing the government to make last-minute amendments on the current provisional elections law to guarantee women a greater share of seats on the councils than in previous polls.

They are working to guarantee that women will break the previous ceiling of 25 per cent of seats.

According to the Iraqi constitution, women are allocated 25 per cent of the total seats in both the Iraqi parliament and provincial councils. The last elections to both were held in 2005.

However, Amal al-Beiraqdar, member of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq (IHEC), the body charged with overseeing balloting, explained there was no set quota for women in the current provincial elections law.

In fact, the current provincial law, which changed several times and was finally published in October, failed to maintain the specific references to required seats for women that appeared in earlier drafts.

The original stipulation was that women were to receive every third seat that a party was allocated after the voters had made their choice.

But as polling day nears, the only reference to the matter in the law was a vague phrase which said that ‘there had to be a woman at the end of every three winners,’ al-Beiraqdar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Read in full:  Against the odds: Women struggle for a fair share in Iraq (Feature):

Smooth Iraqi elections key for Obama pullout (Feature):

The elections in Iraq on January 31 are the first of three this year that will be critical for evaluating the country’s stability and determining how quickly US President Barack Obama can move forward on a campaign promise to order larger withdrawals of combat troops.

Iraqis are set to cast ballots in provincial elections followed later this year by local and then national elections in what is seen as a test of political reconciliation especially between rival Shiite and Sunni populations.

Read in full: Smooth Iraqi elections key for Obama pullout (Feature):

ANALYSIS: Neighbours will affect balance of Iraqi polls:

Cairo – Iraq’s provincial elections, due to take place on January 31, may be a vote for new representatives in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, but – as with so much in Iraq – they are not just a local affair.

The effect of Iraq’s neighbouring states on the outcome of the elections remains a factor that cannot be ignored, as all neighbours play out their cards using their individual connections to Iraqi domestic politics.

Revolutionary Shiite Iran continues to be perceived as the key external player in Iraq, where Shiites make up the majority of the population.

[snip]

‘Of course, if we look beyond Iran, there are Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria,’ said Amr Hamzawy.

Hamzawy said that Turkey had limited instruments to influence the outcome of the elections, despite its nervousness over the status of the mixed-ethnic province of Kirkuk.

A Kurdish-controlled-Kirkuk was, in Turkey’s eyes, a threat to its national security, he said. For now, the issue was postponed, as Kirkuk would not be voting in this round of elections.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia could play a significant role, said Hamzawy, asserting that the kingdom had been funding various Sunni movements in Iraq, using tribal connections, throughout the conflict.

‘Syria can also be relevant, to an extent, in regard to the few Sunni movements that have decided reluctantly to join the political process,’ he explained.

Sunni coalitions have decided to participate in the elections in far greater numbers than in 2005, when they essentially boycotted the poll. They have become strong competitors in a number of ethnically and religiously mixed provinces.

[snip]

Read in full: ANALYSIS: Neighbours will affect balance of Iraqi polls

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