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Iraq: Provincial Polling Evidences Support for al-Maliki

Highlights − Significant wins anticipated for Dawa and Secular parties − Election victories seen as a renewed mandate for the al-Maliki government − Tension in Nineveh, Basra, and Diyala to remain high but widespread violence is unlikely in the near term Voter turnout in Iraq’s January 31, 2009 provincial elections was approximately 51 percent of Iraq’s 15 million registered voters. Though a final tally of votes will not be complete for two to three weeks, early returns indicate a significant shift in power in some of Iraq’s most volatile provinces. Early reporting shows substantial gains for members of Prime Minister (PM) Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party and its secular allies in Baghdad and Basra. Initial counts also suggest the dominate Sunni party in Nineveh, the National al-Hadba’a Gathering, could gain more than 40 percent of the seats on the provincial council. Finally, in Diyala, reports from tribal leaders like Abu Talib indicate that a win by religious parties, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (SIIC), would result in conflict. Given the tension associated with religious parties loosing power, some fear party militias will retaliate against government targets in order to maintain policing rights in key provinces. We, however, do not anticipate widespread violence in Iraq’s volatile provinces in response to an al-Maliki win. The prime minister has demonstrated his political prowess over the past two years, maintaining authority in the parliament through periods of great opposition. Therefore, the demonstration of support implicit in a Dawa win will serve as a stabilizing factor in Iraq, not a driver toward instability. Al-Maliki: Hero to the Populous, Potential Dictator to the Leadership A seeming majority of Iraqis embrace PM al-Maliki as their liberator. He is accredited with ridding neighborhoods of militia rule in Baghdad and in Basra. However, some of his political practices put him at odds with his peers. Kurdish leaders view recent measures by the al-Maliki government, such as declaring Kurdish oil contracts illegal, calls for strengthening the central government and the decision by government-backed, Shia newspapers to refer to Kurdistan as “northern Iraq” or “Kurdish areas,” as evidence that PM al-Maliki is overreaching his authority and attempting to rewrite the Iraqi constitution. Non-Kurdish opposition to the prime minister fear al-Maliki’s strength among the populous and plans to centralize government authority in Baghdad and establish provincial support councils will lead to the creation of a new dictatorship (Previous Report). These are not the reasons, however, that the Dawa party’s win could trigger instability. An electoral win by the Dawa is equivalent to a loss by SIIC, who has maintained power and militias in Baghdad and Basra since the fall of the Saddam regime. SIIC’s militia wing, the Badr Brigades, and the Sadr Movement’s militia wing, the Mahdi Army, have battled for control of Basra in particular. In April 2008, the PM al-Maliki deployed the Iraqi Army to disarm the Mahdi Army in its southern Iraq strongholds (Previous Report). The battle ended with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s institution of a unilateral ceasefire. With the waning of Sadr’s authority in Basra and Shia strongholds, the Badr Brigade fighters filled the vacuum created by the Mahdi Army’s exit. With its dominance on southern provincial councils and strong militia presence, SIIC has exerted significant authority in the south. As a result, many fear SIIC is unlikely to hand over its vast authority in the region willingly to secular and rival parties. However, a strong, popular, al-Maliki mandate in the region and the threat of military engagement will likely be enough to convince SIIC to fade into the background with limited resistance. The party will

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OODA Analyst

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