Preliminary, mostly leaked, results from the elections in Iraq suggest a tectonic shift away from ultrareligious Shiite parties and separatist Kurds, with nationalists, secular parties, Sunnis, and Prime Minister Maliki all making huge gains.
If so, it’s the first step toward a major recalibration of Iraqi politics — and for the good. Big losers: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the Iranian-backed Shiite separatist party, whose militia, the Badr Brigade, was responsible for thousands of assassinations since 2003, and the Kurds, whose hold on Nineveh province in the north, was shattered. The election can also be seen as a setback for Iran, whose chief allies in Iraq — especially ISCI, but also Jalal Talabani’s Kurds — lost.
Actual election results won’t be known for a few days, and complete results may take as long as several weeks. Even more complicated, once the results are known, it will be up to the parties — province by province — to create coalitions in each provincial council that can form a majority, name a governor and a chief of police, and start running things. That could take a few weeks longer.
But the initial results, if they hold, mean that Iraq will at least avoid what could have been a disastrous outcome: a rigged election in which the ruling parties, especially the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, held on to power against the rising force of the Sunnis, secular Iraqis, and anti-establishment, disenfranchised Shiites.
The Times highlights the fact that not only Maliki but secular parties won big. It says:
“The relative success of the secular parties may be a sign that a significant number of Iraqis are disillusioned with the religious parties that have been in power but have done little to deliver needed services.”
Among the secular parties that apparently did well is that of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya list made big gains in Baghdad province and may have done well in Basra, too. (See my interview Allawi and an ally here.)
Maliki, according to some reports, swept the vote in all nine Shiite-dominated southern provinces, including Basra, where he won about half the vote, with ISCI getting only 20 percent. Since taking over as prime minister three years ago, Maliki has tried to portray himself as a born-again nationalist, downplaying the ultrareligious underpinnings of his Islamic Dawa party, a cult-like, secretive movement founded by ayatollahs in the 1950s. Few secular Iraqis trust him, but they’re willing to make deals with Maliki if he plays fair. And secular and nationalist Iraqis will be happy that Maliki appears to have all but crushed ISCI, widely seen in Iraq as a sectarian party that wants to partition Iraq. ISCI is also criticized as a tool of Iran.