Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gone Til November?

The regional elections in Iraq that were tentatively slated for early October might not make that appointment:

Iraq's presidential council rejected Wednesday a measure setting up provincial elections — seen as a key step to develop Iraq's nascent democracy — in the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts.

The three-member panel approved the 2008 budget and another law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. [...]

"No agreement has been reached in the Presidency Council to approve the provincial elections draft law and that it has been sent back to the parliament to reconsider the rejected articles," the presidential council said in a statement.

That being said, this is not a fatal setback, and the sticking points could very well be hammered out in time for an autumn election (in October, or shortly thereafter). As argued previously, though, these elections are a mixed bag in terms of fostering "reconciliation" and fostering democratic norms in Iraq.

On the one hand, since the Sadrist current and many Sunni resistance groups boycotted the regional elections in 2005, a new round will improve on the legitimate representation of local populations. On the other hand, the Sunni and Shiite groups that did participate in those elections (Iraqi Accord Front and ISCI respectively) are not keen to cede their privileged position. As a result, ISCI has been resisting setting a date for elections for some time, and are likely pleased by today's announcment.

Percolating underneath, and likely boiling over during election season, will be conflicts within the Shiite and Sunni regions. In the Shiite south, ISCI and the Sadrist current will continue doing battle, though likely at an increased pitch (especially given that the truce between the two parties has recently been scuttled). In Anbar and the other Sunni regions, the Awakenings groups and other elements of the Sunni resistance will seek to unseat the current Sunni lawmakers, which could stoke a parallel spate of intra-sectarian violence.

According to Reidar Visser, some maneuvering is already underway in the Shiite south - and the early results indicate that ISCI has cause for concern:

With the exceptions of oil-rich Basra and Maysan, the Shiite-majority governorates south of Baghdad are frequently referred to by observers as the loyal fiefdoms of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), America’s and Iran’s principal partner among the Shiites of Iraq. However...Shiite Islamist politicians in the southern city of Nasiriyya have engaged in an intense internal struggle about the local security forces, casting doubt on the image of ISCI hegemony. On 25 February, a two-thirds majority of the governorate council decided to dissolve the local security council and transfer its powers to the local police chief instead.

This development is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, it is taking place in a setting - the provincial council - where no Sadrists are represented because they boycotted the January 2005 local elections. In other words, it is other Shiite Islamist forces, primarily Fadila but probably also at least some members of Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) that are behind the move. Whereas ISCI originally had managed to install their own man as governor of Nasiriyya, they are now being threatened from within in one of their supposedly “safe” constituencies. In this respect, Nasiriyya could be a bellwether for this autumn’s provincial elections...

While Fadhila and the Sadrist current have clashed in the past, the two groups make natural allies at this juncture - due to their mutual enemy (ISCI), the nationalistic outlook of each, their resistance to partition (a favored agenda of ISCI) as well as other common religious and ideological leanings. The two combined could greatly weaken ISCI's position via elections - which has led many to wonder whether ISCI will attempt some level of fraud. I would guess yes, but then the Sadrists and Fadhila will likely counter with their own, neutralizing the effect.

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