Bilgay Duman, ORSAM Middle East Specialist
The federal system that the US has been striving to establish in Iraq since the 2003 invasion has increased the importance of local governments.
Considering the social structure and population of the country, the federal structure in Iraq has the potential to change the power balances to a considerable extent. Most of the political parties, groups, tribes or leaders that are influential in local politics in this respect have also reached a level that can impact the general politics in Iraq. Those parties that cannot be effective in general politics focus on local politics, trying to stay in power at the local level. These facts were clearly seen in the local elections held in 2005 and 2009. Local elections are planned again for April 20.
However, the uprisings in Sunni regions, the conflict and instability within the Iraqi central government, and the struggle between the Iraqi central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) constitute the first item on the political agenda. The aforesaid instability in politics also has a negative effect on security, and thus there has been an increase in acts of violence. This instability in the fields of politics and security will negatively affect the local elections and thus the future of Iraq. As a matter of fact, it was announced on March 19 that the Iraqi Council of Ministers had postponed the local elections in Mosul and al-Anbar, to be held within the next six months. Following this decision, the local elections in other provinces may also be postponed.
In these circumstances Iraq has been preparing for the local elections. Although the Mosul and al-Anbar local elections have been postponed, local elections are still planned to be held in 12 of the 18 provinces of Iraq on April 20.
The delay of elections in some provinces will bring about certain consequences. Sunni groups are expected to be affected the most by this situation. This is because while some Sunni groups have staged demonstrations to call for the elections, others have sought their delay. Therefore, not all groups will participate in the elections in Al-Anbar.
The Iraqi Islamic Party opposed the delay of the elections in al-Anbar.
The decision to postpone the elections in Al-Anbar was accepted by a large majority, however. This situation could create an advantage for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because it will keep the current council, which supports him, in power longer. On the other hand, the aforesaid decision might also further negatively affect the government, which is already in crisis, because from the very moment the decision was made, groups within the government objected to the decision. Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi clearly showed that he is against a delay by stating that the justifications for the decision are not sufficient and that the people should make the final decision on the delay. The Sadrist movement was also against the decision to postpone local elections. It stated that postponing the elections would worsen the security and political situations. Additionally, six ministers affiliated with the Sadrist movement stated they would not attend the meetings of the Council of Ministers at which a decision on the postponement of the elections would be made.
After the Kurdistan Alliance and al-Iraqiya List withdrew their ministers from the Council of Ministers and the Sadrist movement followed suit, only 13 ministers, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, remain in 30-member Council of Ministers. This situation might disrupt the decision-making process of the government or further weaken the government. As is known, general elections are planned in Iraq for 2014. Should the security and political situation in Iraq worsen, early elections might be held. General and local elections might be combined and both elections might be held at the same time.
In such a case, the Shiite groups, which seem more cohesive than the Sunni groups, and Maliki will have a political advantage. While Shiite parties constitute a single, united list, the Sunni groups will have to run under different lists.
Even in the regions where the Sunni population is in the majority, their groups have not been able to join forces. The al-Iraqiya List, which was created for the 2010 elections and succeeded in bringing almost all major Sunni parties and leaders together, has not been able to achieve the same success in the local elections. On the other hand, although the Shiite groups are not cohesive in the regions where the Shiites are in the majority, they have been able to nominate candidates for the elections under a single list in such provinces as al-Anbar, Mosul, Diyala and Saladin, where the Sunni population is in the majority, and this creates a major advantage for them.
Kurdish political groups running in Iraqi provinces outside of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will also enter the elections under a single list in all areas, possibly strengthening the political representation or influence of Kurds outside the KRG or even resulting in the addition of another province to the KRG.
At this point, it seems that the Sunnis are being squeezed out by the Shiites and Kurds.
At this stage, it is highly likely that the local elections will result in the Shiite groups becoming stronger and, furthermore, Nouri al-Maliki will probably consolidate his power.