The 2013 local elections in Iraq give an idea about the general elections to be held in 2014 in terms of both the results and the alliances to be formed. The Prime Ministry Press and Public Relations Adviser Furkan Torlak and SETA Foundation Foreign Policy Expert Mehmet Özkan followed the local elections in Iraq on June 20 as observers. So, we have lent an ear to them about an overall assessment on the polls.
Would you give us the Iraqi local elections in a nutshell?
The 2013 local elections in Iraq give an idea about the general elections to be held in 2014 in terms of both the results and the alliances to be formed.
The third local elections in Iraq were held as a two-phase polling; one of which was held in 12 provinces on April 20 and the other was held in two provinces on June 20. The provinces of Dohouk, Arbil and Sulaymaniya in the Kurdistan Regional Administration (KRA) as well as Kirkuk - a town of conflict - were kept out of the polls. Therefore, a total of nine southern provinces heavily populated with Shiites, four central provinces populated mostly by Sunnis and Baghdad where a mixture of Sunni and Shiite population resides, joined the race. The 2013 elections for local councils in Iraq have not changed the local balances, to the contrary of the previous elections. In the absence of excitement, however, due to a weakening political process the elections rather reminded the 2005 local elections which were protested by Sunni Arabs. The turnout this time was around 51 percent. Given the past turnout ratios, 51 percent in 2009 and 62 percent in 2010, politicians do not seem to have convinced people to cast their votes. Besides, tight security measures and the bomb attacks on the eve of the elections played a role in the low turnout ratio. However, Sunni Arab voters having no hope for the central government in Baghdad and for the political process negatively affected the turnout in the cities of Diala, Salahaddin, Mosul, Anbar andBaghdad. The low turnout of Shiite Arabs proved the voters’ discontent about the political and administrative processes.
Who are the main actors in the local elections in Mosul and Anbar, which were postponed previously, and what are the consequences?
Mosul and Anbar are mostly populated by Sunni Arabs, so Shiite Arabs did not directly join the voting in these provinces. Therefore, the main actors in Mosul and Anbar were: the Speaker of the Parliament Osama Nojayfi’s United Alliance, Salih Mutlak’s Iraqiyya Arabs, Iyad Allawi’s United Iraq Alliance and independent Sunni tribe leaders, etc. However, it has been seen that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki supports nationalist actors in the regions where the Kurdish-Arab tension is felt severely; therefore, it is possible to say that he tries to spoil both the integrity of Sunni Arabs and the harmonization between Kurds and Sunnis. Maliki adopted a policy to remove Shiite Turkmens in particular in the regions populated with Turkmens, as Mosul and Talafar being on top.
What do these elections mean for the Iraqi politics?
As far as the Iraqi politics are considered in general, the status quo has been maintained after the elections for local councils. Another point worth paying attention to is that although Maliki’s the State ofLaw Coalition became the winner of the polls, they have lost votes compared to the results of the last local elections. The Prime Minister, however, had planned to have a landslide victory and aimed to carry his possible victory to the Iraqi Parliament with an intention for the announcement of an early election. According to the plan, Maliki was to win Shiite votes overwhelmingly and with the support of Sunni tribes against Kurds in particular, he would have formed a majority government. The process, however, did not develop as Maliki calculated. The State ofLaw Coalition failed to receive the expected support. In the local elections this year, Shiite voters signaled that they would not be dragged by Maliki’s policies based on “political tension” against the regional countries outside and Kurds, Sunnis and even Shiite politicians inside. On the other hand, Al Hakim group, defending dialogue both inside and outside, won the highest number of votes as a political party and that supports this view. Although Shiite voters backed moderate Al Hakim, they did not support the Muqtada al Sadr group who tried to approach Kurds and Sunni Arabs against Maliki.
What is the importance of these elections in terms of shaping the Sunni-Shiite-Kurds balance?
The alliances that emerged during the local elections will undoubtedly affect the central administration in Baghdad. In the new term, it is expected that Maliki will maintain the status quo in the perspective of the Shiite politics, al Sadr will review his establishment and discourse, and al Hakim will increase his influence. Under the circumstances in which the traditional Shiite parties maintain their powers, it will not be difficult to set up alliances prior to the general elections. Still, it is likely that al Hakim may join the race separately for he was successful in the local elections. However, in order for Shiites to form the government following the elections they may unite under an alliance.
As for the Sunni politics in Iraq, Nujaifi is expected to come to the fore as the strongest of the United Coalition, as the Deputy Prime Minister Salih al Mutlaq weakens more. However, if local and independent Sunni actors act together with al Mutlaq with the support of Maliki, a new balance may be formed in the Sunni-Arab politics in terms of relations with Baghdad and Shiite Arabs. On the other hand, for Allawi whose presence was not felt in the elections, it will not be easy to maintain his leadership position as the leader of al Iraqiya group.
It is not easy to make any forecast towards the general elections as the local elections were not held in the KRA. However, it is possible to say that there is a rapprochement between Kurds and Sunni Arabs by looking at Mosul and between Kurds and Shiite Arabs by looking at Diala. The conclusion that can be drawn from this picture is that Kurds may join the general elections by seeking an alliance on a pragmatic ground with a group which can provide them the utmost benefit.
How do these elections affect Turkey-Iraq relations?
The local elections in Iraq have no direct effect or critical reflection on Turkey-Iraq relations. However, Turkey should very carefully watch for the efforts of the actors who are trying to divide Sunni Arabs on the axis of cooperation with Kurds. Ankara supports positive affairs between Sunni Arabs and Kurds, starting with Mosul and along the process it is likely that Ankara will be targeted by some of the actors. Considering the fact that the actors in Iraq did not reach a satisfactory result in the polls, moves against Turkey should not be surprising.