By Padraig O'Hannelly.
Iraqis go to the polls on Saturday in the first elections since the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011. While these provincial elections are important in themselves, they may also serve as a barometer of public satisfaction with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
But the real decision on Maliki's future will be made in the parliamentary elections in early 2014, and it looks increasingly likely that moves to restrict the prime minister to two terms in office will not make it through the courts in time to limit his ambition to head up a majority government.
If Maliki was to win a third term in office, without having to reach compromises with other parties, what would that mean for Iraq, and more specifically, for business in Iraq? Third terms are not generally noted for their success, with the incumbents often running out of steam, but would the added power of majority, were it to happen, be enough to reinvigorate the ruling party? Or are the current checks and balances, provided by his coalition partners, all that stands between Maliki and full autocratic control?
We hope to get some indication of the public's mood in the coming days.