They Bring Nascent Iraqi Nationalism to the Surface
A striking feature of Iraq's provincial elections on Jan. 3 was the majority's support for a united Iraq with a strong central government capable of reining in sectarian bloodshed.
Early results from the 14 out of 18 provinces, in which 51 percent of the 14 million eligible voters took part, showed them in flight from the political and religious forces which espouse a federal Iraq with separate autonomous regions for the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities.
In contrast, the parties and factions which upheld a centrally-governed, integrated Iraq swept the board.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iraqi sources report that striking symptoms of Iraqi national sentiments crossing ethnic and religious lines have surfaced for the first time in the six years of US efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.
This tendency was conspicuous even among Iraqi Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population. Many cast their votes for pro-nationalist rather than religious factions.
Early returns indicate that the Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies captured a large portion of the Shiite vote from the largest Shiite religious party, Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. This party, which is headed by the Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir Al Hakim, is estimated to have lost control of 6 out of the 7 provinces it dominated, mostly in the South.
Maliki's Dawa Party successfully wooed the Iraqi voter by playing down its Islamic identity and making much of his coalition's achievements in enhancing security against sectarian strife.
Tribal elements gain at expense of religious factions
This achievement came too late for George W. Bush to reap its rewards. However, it undeniably owes much to his vision and tenacity in adhering to the goal of democratizing Iraq.
Another manifestation that should hearten Washington is the poor showing of the pro-Iranian parties, especially in the Iraqi Shiite electorate. If the rulers in Tehran counted on opening a dialogue with Barack Obama from a position of strength drawn from its support in Iraq, they miscalculated.
Those supporters were heavily defeated in the provincial elections.
The Sunni and Shiite Muslim tribes proved to be on the ascendant – again at the expense of their own coreligionist parties. Iraq's secular elements, some with strong tribal affiliations, are clearly getting stronger.
Because of this trend in the Shiite community, the list headed by Shiite liberal former prime minister Iyad Alawi did well by snaring votes from the religious parties' constituency in his province, whereas the once popular Ayatollah Moqtada Sadr found his adherents melting away at the ballot box.
The Sunni community underwent a similar process. Tribal groups which had joined the US-initiated Awakening Councils to fight al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency prospered against religious Sunni factions.
The traditional Kurdish parties suffered severe setbacks in their northern strongholds, including Mosul. But they did well outside their own region in the central Iraqi provinces of Diyala and Hanakin.
Returns from the important oil city of Kirkuk are not yet in.