Friday, June 28, 2013

Provincial Election Outcomes: The Political Fragmentation of Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'a

Iraqi Arab Sunni fragmentation and low voter turnout for Ninewa provincial elections produced a victory for Iraqi Kurds. The decrease in representation by Mutahidun in the Nujaifi’s home province calls into question the direction of Sunni political leadership ahead of 2014 elections. Government formation in Diyala and Baghdad indicate that the political future of Iraqi Sunni will increasingly rely upon Iraqi Shi’a political antagonism to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

On June 26, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the final results of the June 20 Ninewa and Anbar provincial elections. In Ninewa, the results could electorally revive the Iraqi Kurds and provide them with leverage in a strategic province. Iraqi Kurdish gains came as a result of the fragmentation in the Iraqi Arab vote. The results also present a dilemma to incumbent governor Atheel al-Nujaifi as his Kurdish opening appears to have backfired against his electoral bloc, Mutahidun. In Anbar, Mutahidun fared well against groups that have ties to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but these Maliki-affiliated groups also posted strong returns. Finally, the Sadrist’s leading role in forming governments in Diyala and Baghdad with Iraqi Sunnis produced results that point to the possible alliance-building dynamic ahead of 2014 elections.   

Ninewa and Anbar Results 

Twenty eight political groups competedfor Ninewa’s 39 provincial council seats, and 14 groups  securedseats in last week’s election. The Iraqi Kurdish coalition, the Brotherhood and Coexistence List, won 11 seats which translated to the loss of one seat from the 2009 elections for the Iraqi Kurds. Mutahidun (the United), which included Ninewa governor Atheel al-Nujaifi’s group, the Hadba Gathering, came in second, garnering 8 seats. Accordingto the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) Irshad al-Salhi, 4 of those seats were won by its candidates. Overall, this is a decline for Hadba which had won19 seats in 2009. Loyalty to Ninewa Alliance (LNA), which is headedby former Ninewa governor, Ghanim al-Baso, won 4 seats. The Unified Ninewa Alliance (UNA), which is backedby tribal leader Abdallah al-Yawer, won 3 seats. The Iraq Construction and Justice Gathering (ICJG), headedby incumbent Ninewa deputy provincial council head, Dildar Zebari, won 3 seats. The remaining 10 seats were won by 9 other groups with former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s, Unified National Iraqi Alliance (UNIA), being the most prominent among them, having won2 seats.       

These results are significant for several reasons. First, voter turnout in Ninewa was low, estimated at 37.5-38%. Voter turnout in 2009 had been 60%, and the precipitous decline raises concerns about future Iraqi Sunni Arab political participation especially given the possibilityof an armed movement. The low turnout, combined with the relative electoral success of the Iraqi Kurdish coalition and the decline of Mutahidun, mayindicate that Iraqi Kurdish turnout may have been higher than that of Iraqi Arabs. It may also indicate that the presence of multiple Iraqi Arab groups splintered the Iraqi Arab vote in favor of the Iraqi Kurds. It may also be explained by al-Nujaifi’s 2012 rapprochement with the Iraqi Kurds, which may have backfiredagainst him. The groups that are critical of the Iraqi Kurds, such as LNA, UNA, and ICJG, won a combined 10 seats, suggesting that al-Nujaifi lost Arab Sunni votes to them over the Kurdish issue. The 11 seats won by the Iraqi Kurds will provide them with increased leverage as the government formation process begins. This may elevate anti-Kurdish sentiments among the Arab Sunni in Ninewa. Likewise, Mutahidun’s poor performance in the Nujaifis’ home province represents a setback to Mutahidun, and to al-Nujaifi in particular.

Security events are also tied to the turnout rate in Ninewa. Violent actors wishing to deter popular participation in elections were expected to engage in attacks prior to June 20. According to media reporting, between June 10-20 there were a total of 34 violent incidents in the greater Mosul area that involved either Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED). Notable attacks include the June 20 suicide bombing attack in the Hadhar district, south of Mosul, that killed tribal sheikh Younis al-Ramah. Al-Ramah was head of the Unified Iraq political group and was very likely targeted due to his political role and his reported ties to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Other attacks may have resonated with the voting population and deterred them from voting, including a wave of VBIED attacks on June 10 which included five VBIEDs in the greater Mosul area. Governor Nujaifi also survived twoassassination attempts that took place in early June and on June 13. Given the time proximity to the elections, these attacks likely kept voters away from the voting centers. A degraded security environment undermines incumbent parties, and therefore attacks may have also affected al-Nujaifi negatively.             

Anbar’s results also presented surprises. Seventeen political groups competedfor 30 seats. Mutahidun was able to securethe highest number of seats, winning 8, while incumbent governor Qassim al-Fahdawi’s alliance, Aabirun won only 5 seats. It was followed by Arab Iraqiyya, the strongest components of which are Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi Front for National Dialogue and Jamal al-Karbuli’s Hal movement. Arab Iraqiyya won4 seats. Meanwhile, Allawi’s UNIA won3 seats. Finally, the Anbar-based Anbar National Alliance garnered3 seats. 

The Anbar results show that figures close to the anti-government protest movement are still electorally viable despite the shrinkingprotest movement in the province. This primarily concerns Mutahidun, which includes in its ranks former finance minister Rafia al-Issawi, whose targeting by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki triggered the movement. At the same, it seems that Maliki’s policy to work with some allies in Anbar including governor Fahdawi, Mutlaq, and Karbuli is not entirely detrimental to them. Groups supported by these figures won 9 seats altogether. It is plausible from the results, however, that the Fahdawi, Mutlaq, and Karbuli groups could be shut out of government with an alliance formed by the other groups. 

The unique case of government-formation in Baghdad and Diyala 

The results in Ninewa and Anbar present a picture of intra-sect and ethno-sectarian political competition in Iraq. Government-formation in Baghdad and Diyala, on the other hand, opens the possibility of cross-sectarian cooperation. In both provinces, an Iraqi-Shi‘a/Iraqi Sunni alignment produced the governments. 

In Baghdad, the government was officiallyformed on June 15. An alliance was formed between the Iraqi Shi‘a groups comprising the Sadrists (11 seats out of 58), the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which won 6 seats, and Mutahidun, which occupies 6 seats. Other groups in the council joined them and composed a bloc to form the government named“the Alliance for Baghdad.” Accordingly, Sadrist member of the Council of Representatives (CoR), Ali al-Tamimi, was elected governor, while Riyadh al-Adhadh, who is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) and ran with Mutahidun, was elected chairman of the provincial council. The other senior positions in Baghdad’s government were allocated to the other groups. The provincial council session that resulted in forming the government was boycotted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA), which won 20 seats in Baghdad. The configuration of the new Baghdad government meant that the SLA was excluded from the senior positions. This is a complete reversal for the SLA which had controlledthe incumbent council. As a result of his assumption of office, al-Tamimi had to resign from his parliamentary seat. Al-Adhadh was deputy council chairman in the previous council and was arrestedin 2012 over terrorism charges and released after 10 months in custody. It will be important to watch whether his case is revived as part of a political retribution by the SLA. 

In Diyala, the Sadrists, who won 3 seats out of 29; Iraqiyat Diyala, which won 10 seats, including elements from Mutahidun; and the Iraqi Kurds formedthe government. This resulted in the June 19 reelection of incumbent governor Omar al-Hamiri from the IIP, and the election of Sadrist member of the council Mohammed Jawad Kadhim as chairman. Iraqi Kurdish council member Karim Mohammed Ali was elected as first deputy governor. Unlike Baghdad, the Sadrists in Diyala were the only Iraqi Shi‘a component to ally with the Iraqi Sunnis to form the government. The other Iraqi Shi‘a parties boycottedthe session that voted on the government. The major Iraqi Shi‘a parties participatedin the Diyala elections under the Diyala National Coalition (DNC) and won12 seats in the council, constituting a collective plurality. The formation of the DNC was intendedto signify Iraqi Shi‘a solidarity in Diyala, a province that was a major contest during Iraq’s civil war in 2006-2007. Therefore, the Sadrist decision broke the unity of Iraqi Shi‘a groups in Diyala and closed the other Shi‘a groups out of the government. For the Sadrists, leveraging three seats to secure the second important position in the provincial government is a major gain. It is also another indication of Sadrist strategy to gain leverage in light if the escalating intra-Shi‘a rivalry lately observedin Baghdad.  

These developments generated protests in Diyala before and after the election of Hamiri. On his election day, June 19, a protest took place that condemned Hamiri’s candidacy. A tribal sheikh who participated in the protest describedHamiri as “sectarian” and demanded the nomination of another candidate. On June 23, hundreds protestedin Diyala’s capital, Baqubah, and in Khanaqin and viewed the government-formation as “marginalization” of the DNC. Notably, an Iraqi Kurdish council memberindicated that newly-elected deputy governor Ali acted in a personal capacity by joining the government. This may indicate intra-Iraqi Kurdish fractures. 

Politically, the Sadrists came under attack by other Iraqi Shi‘a parties. SLA CoR member, Ali al-Shalah statedthat the Sadrists offered the governor position to Hamiri in order to receive Mutahidun’s vote for Baghdad’s governorship in return. Al-Shalah added that the new government led to the “absence of a whole component,” a reference to the Iraqi Shi‘a. ISCI on the other hand calledwhat happened in Diyala a “major strategic error” and called for reconsidering the government-formation.        


The announcement of the Ninewa and Anbar election results signals the beginning of government-formation in both provinces. In Ninewa, the Iraqi Kurds are currently rejuvenated by the outcome. Mohsen Saadun, a senior Iraqi Kurdish politician, indicatedthe Iraqi Kurds’ willingness to work with the all groups to form a government. Although he specified that the groups have to “believe in the constitution and the federal system.” This is a clear swipe at the groups that hold anti-Kurdish views in the province. The current Iraqi Kurdish advantage favors al-Nujaifi, but also places him in a difficult spot with Arab Sunni. If he is reelected in Ninewa as a result of only Iraqi Kurdish backing, he will not maintain the same political maneuverability and will be perceived as weak governor. This potential dynamic will likely limit him and his brother, speaker of the CoR Osama al-Nujaifi, as they gear up for the 2014 national elections. 

In Anbar, coalition-building to form the government has begun. On June 28, Mutahidun and Arab Iraqiyya formedan alliance to form a government. This alliance has a reasonable chance of success because the groups combine to 12 seats and therefore only need four more seats to obtain the majority needed to form a government. It is unclear how they will secure these votes, but this uncertainty increases the potential leverage of the smaller political groups. Arab Iraqiyya includes Jamal al-Karbuli’s Hal movement; because Karbuli had acted as one of Maliki’s Iraqi Sunni allies, this is a significant development for politics in Anbar. 

The outcome of elections in Ninewa and Anbar should be viewed on balance with the outcome of government formation in Baghdad and Diyala. In Baghdad, parties clearly wanted to isolate Maliki and the SLA, which allowed Sunni parties greater political representation. Diyala’s government did also, and as a result, the provincial government will continue to face challenges and questions of legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqi Shi‘a, as the Sadrists are their only representation in that body.   

For Iraqi Sunnis, given great concern about the political future of this community, the results could have been much worse. They successfully avoided being sidelined in Baghdad and Diyala, where cross-sectarian cooperation in government formation is a positive result. However, fragmentation of Sunni parties demonstrates that there is still no consensus on the political leadership of the Sunni community. Iraqi Kurds benefitted from the fragmentation of Iraqi Sunni parties in Ninewa, positioning them as possible king-makers in government formation. For the Iraqi Shi‘a, disunity means a possible greater role for Iranian influence in the 2014 elections. Anti-Maliki forces saw the opportunity to sideline Maliki in Baghdad as a first electoral challenge to him as the leader of the Iraqi Shi‘a community. For all these groups, the conclusion of the provincial elections is only the prelude to the all-important 2014 elections.   

 Ahmed Ali is an Iraq Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.        

Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #25: The Ninewa and Anbar Elections and the future of Iraq's Sunni Leadership

This week, Iraq’s Sunnis faced a critical decision to elect or reject politics. In the provincial elections held in Ninewa and Anbar on June 20, voter turnout in Anbar sustained; however, turnout in Ninewa was significantly lower, which could indicate growing Sunni frustration and retreat from political process. The electoral fortunes of the coalitions participating will indicate who will emerge as the key leadership of the Iraqi Sunnis. In particular, the fortunes of the Nujaifis will signal their mandate to continue as the most prominent Sunni national political figures. In Ninewa, the election results will dictate the tenor of relations between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs. Finally, the performance of Maliki’s Sunni allies in both provinces will influence his strategy as the 2014 elections approach.  

Provincial elections in Ninewa and Anbar occurred on Thursday, June 20. Elections in the two predominantly Sunni provinces had been postponed originally until July 4, while other provincial elections were held as scheduled on April 20. The Council of Ministers headed by Maliki made this decisionin March, ostensibly for security reasons after the targetingof candidates and poll workers in both provinces. The decision to delay the elections, however, was also very likely intended to provide Maliki allies with the opportunity to enhance their electoral fortunes. On account of the objections of other local politicians in Ninewa and Anbar and pressure from the Independent High Electoral Commission [IHEC], the Council of Ministers decidedto hold the delayed elections earlier on June 20. 

Ninewa and Anbar have been the major centersof anti-government protests since their outbreak in December 2012. The first casualties from clashes between the protesters and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) occurred in Fallujah in January and Mosul in March.  Political conditions and violence escalated in both provinces in the aftermath of the Aprilevents in Hawija. In Ninewa, Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiya [JRTN] started to mobilize and emerged as a force that is poised to play a role in a potential low-level Iraqi Sunni uprising. In the immediate aftermath of Hawija’s events, JRTN was reportedly able to achieve temporary controlover an entire the whole neighborhood of 17 July in western Mosul. In Anbar, the aftermath of Hawija represented a turning point pushing local tribes to decideto form the tribal “Army of Pride and Dignity.” According to Qusay al-Zain, a senior protest organizer, the purposeof the tribal army is to “defend the honor, freedom, and dignity of the ‘ahl al-sunna’ [Sunnis] from Maliki and his militias.” 

The affairs of the anti-government protests have also been influenced by the recent remobilizationof Iraqi Shi’a militias in Baghdad. The perceived threat of that remobilization has increased a sense of fear and charged the sectarian atmosphere. As an illustration, the protesters namedone of their Friday protests “The Path of Our Movement Will Conquer your Militias” the same week that news emerged of Iraqi Shi’a militia reactivation in Baghdad. This raises questions about how sectarianism will affect voter behavior in these elections.

Another significant factor is the recent enhancement of the political fortunes of Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad and Diyala. Prior to the Ninewa and Anbar elections, the Iraqi Sunni political scene experienced two important developments. In Baghdad, Mutahidun struck an alliance with anti-Maliki Iraqi Shi’a groups like the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) that secured Mutahidun the provincial council chairmanship in the province. In Diyala, the Iraqi Sunnis were able to maintainthe governor position after governor Omar al-Hamiri was reelected. Hamiri’s reelection was also the result of an agreement struck with the Sadrists. These events illustrate that politics is still a viable option for Iraqi Sunnis, but the Ninewa and Anbar elections are more indicative of their future acceptance of politics given the history of insurgency in both provinces.   
Nevertheless, throughout the spring of 2013, the anti-government protests functioned as defining political features of Ninewa and Anbar, and they have played a major role in shaping the opinions of prospective voters as well as Sunni political platforms. Recent observations that the protests have lately begun to recede or divide have elevated concern that dissident Sunni elements may abandonthe political process altogether. This makes the elections a barometer of how the Iraqi Sunni residents of these two provinces currently weigh their options between politics and insurgency.    

Electoral Politics of Ninewa 

There were thirty nine seats slated for election in Ninewa. Three of them are set aside for minority groups like Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak. 28 political groups competed for the seats with a combined total of 637 candidates. There were almost 1,800,000 eligible voters. Four coalitions are most likely to be competitive in the Ninewa election: 

Mutahidun (The United): Mutahidun is a coalition of predominately Iraqi Sunni groups includingthe Hadba list, which won 19 seats in the 2009 provincial elections. It has the backing of the governor of Ninewa, Atheel al-Nujaifi, and his brother, the speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR), Osama al-Nujaifi. Mutahidun was joined this time by the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which won 3 seats in the 2009 elections. Hadba ran on an anti-Iraqi Kurdish platform in 2009, and this allowed it to be the dominant force. Nujaifi was the highest vote-getting candidate in the 2009 provincial elections when he garnered over 262,539 votes.  This approach changed when Hadba initiated a policy of rapprochement with the Iraqi Kurds in 2012. That policy resulted in allocating positions to the Iraqi Kurds, but kept Nujaifi in office as governor and allowed his continued influence in provincial affairs. Mutahidun and the Nujaifi brothers in particular have been supportive of the anti-government protests. Mutahidun criticizedthe security forces and demanded an investigation of the attack when a protester was killed in clashes with security forces in Mosul. In general, the Nujaifi brothers have constituted a serious countervailing force to Maliki and his Iraqi Sunni allies over the last year.    
The Brotherhood and Coexistence List: The List is an Iraqi Kurdish coalition that includes8 major Iraqi Kurdish parties. The two main components of the coalition are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Iraqi Kurds had 12 seats in Ninewa’s council after the 2009 elections. It is very likely that the KDP will gain more seats than the PUK in Ninewa. KDP-controlled areas in Iraqi Kurdistan border Ninewa province and, since 2003, the KDP has been able to prove that it is more dominant on the ground in the province.  

The Unified Ninewa: The coalitionis headed by the leader of the tribal Shamar confederation, Abdallah al-Yawer. The coalition has 9 seats and is competing on anti-Iraqi Kurdish platform. Al-Yawer’s tribal background and influence will also likely work to his advantage.   

Loyalty to Ninewa: The coalition is headedby former governor of Ninewa, Ghanim al-Baso. The coalition has 9 groups including Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialog Front (INDF) and the National Movement for Reform and Development (Solution or Halin Arabic), which is headed by Member of Parliament Jamal al-Karbuli. This group is perceivedto receive the support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was reportedly the group that requesteda delay in provincial elections in Ninewa in March 2013.     

The Stakes in Ninewa      

Although ongoing visible security problems in Ninewa are a matter of public concern, the candidates generally avoided discussion of this issue in the run up to elections. Nujaifi in particular, who has held power for the past four years, would have been most damaged by the topic. Instead, national issues such as perceived Sunni marginalization and mistreatment by Maliki’s government were dominant in run up to the elections.

At the same time, local issues were important.  General anti-Kurdish sentiments remain high in Ninewa, and al-Nujaifi may be punished in these elections for his recent outreach to the Iraqi Kurds. Gains at his expense may be made by al-Yawer’s group, Unified Ninewa, which criticized the Nujiafis for their Kurdish overtures and has been campaigningon that platform. Al-Yawer has also criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his recent visit to Iraqi Kurdistan. The issue of holding a census that would clearly reveal the demographic breakdown of Iraq is highly contentious, particularly in Ninewa where the status of some areas remains in dispute. Al-Yawer seized on this point and stated his rejection of “conducting any census in light of the Peshmerga [Iraqi Kurdish security forces] occupation of Ninewa’s land.” 

For the Iraqi Kurds, the Ninewa elections are very important. They underperformed in Salah ad-Din and Diyala, and a better performance in Ninewa will help them reassert claim over the Disputed Internal Boundaries (DIBs) in the province as they have donein the past. Critically, influence in Ninewa’s local government gives the Iraqi Kurds leverage with regards to disputed oil fields that lie within Ninewa’s borders but have been grantedto foreign oil companies for exploration by the Kurdistan Regional Government. 

Electoral Politics in Anbar

There are 30 seats slated for election in Anbar province. There were 17 political groups competing for the seats, and they fielded a total of 548 candidates. Among the 17 coalitions, four are likely to be the most competitive. 

Mutahidun (The United): As in Ninewa, Mutahidun is a major force in Anbar. It includes in its ranks former finance minister Rafia al-Issawi’s Future Gathering and tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha’s Awakening (Sahwa) Conference in addition to the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). Given that the Nujaifis are not from Anbar, these political forces are necessary to garner more votes. In Anbar, tribal dynamics and locale trump politics and ideology, which, by contrast, are more prominent in Ninewa. Combined, these groups won 14 seats in the 2009 elections.

Aabirun: Aabirun is another coalition that is poised towin seats. It is led by incumbent governor Mohammed Qassim al-Fahdawi and includes nine groups. The coalition’s strength derives from Fahdawi’s tenure as governor, although Aabirun is perceived to be close to Maliki. This may cost the coalition votes during this round of elections.   

Arab Iraqiyya: Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is competingunder the Arab Iraqiyya coalition which includes six groups. As in Ninewa, al-Karbuli’s Hal movement is part of the coalition. Both groups have nine seats in the incumbent council. Despite incumbency, Arab Iraqiyya may lose votes in this election on account of Mutlaq’s decreased popularity in Anbar.    

United National Iraqi Alliance: Another player is the Unified National Iraqi Alliance which is led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and includes19 groups. It had won two seats in the 2009 elections.[i] The elections will indicate Allawi’s political longevity among Iraqi Sunnis.

 The Conduct and Significance of the Elections 

The voter turnoutfor elections in Ninewa was 37.5%, which was a significant decline from the 60% recorded in the 2009 provincial elections. Anbar, meanwhile, registered a turnout of 50%, which is a 9% increase from the 2009 provincial elections. The decline in turnout Ninewa may be attributed to voter fatigue, as this is the sixth electoral process in Iraq since 2005. Voter enthusiasm tends to decline with every elections cycle. Furthermore, local elections witness lower turnouts compared to national elections. Security procedures may have also hampered voters from heading to polling stations. Regardless of the reason, Ninewa’s voter turnout presented a strong indicator of Iraqi Sunnis refraining from politics.  

This is a worrisome indicator. AQI resurgence, JRTN mobilization, and sectarian policies by Maliki have the potential to transform political discontent into armed opposition. This combination will allow JRTN in particular to find more sympathy from the population and therefore to recruit effectively. In addition, AQI has encouraged Iraqi Sunnis to boycott elections as a means to achieve their objectives. On the eve of the elections, AQI issued a statement that called on the people of Ninewa and Anbar not to participate in the elections. To that end, AQI is also likely behind recent attacks on local candidates including the June 18attack on the leader of a pro-Maliki coalition. Notably, AQI does not seem to have been successful in carrying out large scale attacks to disrupt the elections. It is possible that increased security measures including vehicular travelbans in both provinceswere effective in preventing most violence. A post-election suicide bomb attackon a vote counting center in Ramadi, however, demonstrated the speed with which security can deteriorate, as the attack reportedly targeted a highly fortified area. 

Violence in this charged environment will likely continue. The rhetoric leading up to the elections was more sectarian than that which preceded the April 20 elections. This is partly a reflection of electoral strategy to mobilize voters and also in part due to rising sectarianism in Iraq. Nonetheless, the election results will be crucial for the Iraqi Sunnis. From 2003 until 2009, Anbar was the political capital of the Iraqi Sunnis. That changed after the 2009 elections when the Nujaifi brothers emerged as a formidable power. Therefore, the results achieved by the Nujaifi brothers will be an important gauge of their influence before the 2014 national elections. 

Mutahidun portrayed the elections as the last possible opportunity for the Iraqi Sunnis to have their voices heard. In a video postedon its Facebook page, Mutahidun’s spokesperson, Thafir al-Ani, called on the people of Ninewa and Anbar to vote in order to “regain” their dignity. Al-Ani called on them to see it as an opportunity to end marginalization. Al-Ani also warned the Iraqi Sunnis that boycotting the elections will make them wait “for one thousand Batat and one thousand Mokhtar Army.” Al-Ani’s reference is to the Iraqi Shi’a militia, the Mokhtar Army, which was formed in February 2013 by Wathiq al-Batat. The formation of the Mokhtar Army and the remobilization of the Iraqi Shi’a militias have represented a rallying point for the Iraqi Sunnis. 

Equally important is the composition of the local governments after the results are announced. In 2009, the Hadba Gathering formed a government in Ninewa without the Iraqi Kurds. This led to the boycottof the provincial governments by the Iraqi Kurds and produced another layer of ethnic tensions. A similar scenario this time around will be a boon for AQI and JRTN, whose modus operandi is exploiting ethno-sectarian tensions. If the results show that Ninewa voters punished Hadba for warming up to the Iraqi Kurds, the Nujaifis may recalculate their alliances and form a government without the Iraqi Kurds. In sum, the Nujaifi’s ambition to be leaders of the Iraqi Sunnis is largely dependent on these elections results.   

For Anbar, acceptance of the results by protest leaders will be an indicator of the future of the protest movement. Reports from the ground suggest that some protest leaders took part in the elections and preachers in the pre-election Friday urgedvoters to participate. Nonetheless, any perception that the results were rigged in favor of Maliki-allies will likely trigger violent reactions and the return of massive protest. 

As IHEC prepares to announce the results on June 25, Maliki’s strategy to ally himself with Iraqi Sunni figures like al-Mutlaq and Karbuli in addition to the new Sahwa leader, Wisam al-Hardan will be put to test. For Maliki, a weakened Nujaifi powerbase will represent a significant step as he gears up for the 2014 elections. Crucially, the results and the performance of his allies will indicate to Maliki his future approach to the protests and his relations with the Iraqi Sunnis.      
Ahmed Aliis an Iraq research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.