This is the last of the three-part series on Iraq’s provincial elections, scheduled for tomorrow.
After four years under a government dominated by Shiite religious parties with close ties to Iran, Iraqi voters are ready for change, says Aiham Alsammarae. An American citizen who returned to Iraq in 2003, and who served as Iraq’s electricity minister from 2003-2005, Alsammarae is a fierce, secular Sunni nationalist who is working with Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite former Iraqi prime minister, to elect candidates in Saturday’s provincial election who represent a turn away from ethnic and sectarian identity politics.
“I don’t want to underestimate the religious parties,” Alsammarae says, referring to the Islamic Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. “But our analysis is that over the last four years the religious parties tried everything and proved that they are not successful leaders. They couldn’t deliver what they promised. They could not do anything right.”
As a result, says Alsammarae, who is working not only with Allawi but with tribal leaders in his native Salahuddin province north of Baghdad and with elements of the Awakening movement that began in Anbar province in 2006, voters are turning against the religious parties.
“In the south, people are asking: What have they done for us?” he says. “There are no jobs. There is no electricity and water. The schools and hospitals are terrible. And there is so much corruption.”
The January 31 election will severely test Alsammarae’s thesis. Many analysts agree that the religious parties have lost support across Iraq, but they retain built-in advantages, including control of the media, illicit use of government funds, and quiet support from Iraq’s clerical establishment. And Alsammarae says that Dawa and ISCI are getting help from Tehran, too. “Most of their money comes from Iran,” he charges. “But we know that these parties do not have a real political base.”
The secular parties, Sunni-led parties, and nationalist alliances in Iraq hope to make major gains in Saturday’s vote, especially in three key provinces. In Nineveh, up north, they hope to oust a minority Kurdish government in a province that is three-fourths Sunni Arab. In Baghdad, home to a quarter of Iraq’s population, they hope to lay the groundwork for a coalition that can topple the Dawa-ISCI bloc. And in mixed Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, they also expect major gains.