Postponement of Provincial Elections in Anbar, Nineveh

Evidently, the Nineveh politicians are far less afraid of losing their jobs than their Anbar counterparts. This may be performance-related, but it could also have to do with different views on the Syrian uprising and the radicalism it has brought to Sunni-dominated parts of western Iraq. Anbar has after all seen some of this before: The sahwa movement was a response to unwanted radicalism on the part of Al-Qaeda. Last year, Maliki succeeded in winning over a sufficient number of local shaykhs to dilute a movement in favour of federalism for Anbar.

What we are seeing today in terms of rapprochement over elections postponement could be much-needed tendencies of cooperation between Maliki and Sunni local leaders at a time when regional winds are clearly blowing in a sectarian direction. With many Iraq commentators focused on black and white characterizations of Iraqi politics (or “crescents”) we tend to forget that many Iraqi Sunnis still find themselves sandwiched between extremist Al-Qaeda sympathisers and an Iraqi government they suspect of having too close links to Iran.

Nineveh appears to be a different story, thus cementing the sense of a complete rupture between Maliki and the Nujayfi brothers. Some Maliki critics in Nineveh go all the way and call for federalism as an appropriate response. Still, the stark discrepancy between the Nineveh and Anbar responses should in itself give pause for those in a hurry to declare any kind of Sunni region. If Maliki is smart, he will take this last-minute opportunity to win some much-needed Sunni friends in Anbar.

Already the Sadrists that saved his premiership last year (and the budget earlier this month) have declared a cabinet boycott, saying they take orders from Muqtada al-Sadr only. That sort of capriciousness should be a reminder to Maliki about what sort of forces he will be hostage to if he perseveres with a strictly sectarian approach in order to guarantee his political survival.

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