By Reidar Visser.
The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Since the final results of the Iraqi local elections were certified in late May, Iraqi local politicians have moved with reasonable speed towards forming new councils and appointing new governors. There has been much speculation about the way alliances are shaping up, but as of today, 8 out of 12 provinces that held elections on 20 April have actually completed the formalities of establishing new local governments.
In an echo of what happened in 2009, coalition formation has been a process full of surprises and not always in line with the most obvious predictions that emerged from the results themselves. Generally speaking, there has been a tendency of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s own concept of a “political majority” being employed against him, mostly after fellow Shiites from ISCI and the Sadrists decided to join forces to challenge his dominance in several provinces. Often these political majorities are based on little else than strong personal enmity towards Maliki and his State of Law Alliance, but this sentiment has proved sufficient to create anti-Maliki coalitions in some, if not all, the Shiite-majority governorates.
Perhaps the best way to typologise the new local governments is to sort them according to the level of conflict between the main blocs in settling the governorships and other top positions (of which the speakership is the most important).
First, there are consensus-based governorates where the Sadrist-ISCI deal at the national level gave way to local agreements and did not succeed in marginalising Maliki completely. These include Basra (ISCI governor, State of Law speaker), Maysan (Sadrist governor, State of Law speaker), Qadisiyya (Fadila governor, ISCI speaker). In Basra, the competition started out as a ISCI-Sadr coalition but Maliki’s State of Law eventually agreed to take the speakership, perhaps as a face-saving mechanism. It is a remarkable outcome that ISCI with only 5 seats won the governor position, and that the previous pro-Maliki governor – perhaps one of Iraq’s most popular politicians with more than 130,000 personal votes – was demoted to the speakership position. For its part, Maysan has seen Shiite grand coalitions before and the Sadrists simply retain their pre-eminent position, whereas the emergence of a pan-Shiite consensus government in previously contested Qadisiyya is a new phenomenon.