More information is emerging on Iraq’s new provincial governments. Initial reports were focused upon the victory of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law List and the defeat of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). State of Law walked away with nine provinces, all but one of which the SIIC previously controlled. Maliki’s ticket only won majorities in Baghdad and Basra however, which meant they needed coalitions to rule. This has opened the door to some new parties gaining power.
In 2005 four major parties ended up controlling all but one of Iraq’s governorships. In the first provincial elections after the U.S. invasion the Supreme Council came out the big winner. Seven southern provinces, Babil, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadisiyah, plus Baghdad had SIIC governors. The Kurdish Alliance of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan won in Dohuk, Irbil, Salahaddin, Sulaymaniya, and Tamim. They also elected an Arab independent in Ninewa as governor. After them, Sadrists became governors in Maysan and Wasit, the Iraqi Islamic Party took control in Anbar, and the Sadrist breakaway group the Fadhila Party took the governorship in Basra. Fadhila was the only new and minor party amongst the five that took power that year.
In 2009 only fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces held elections. Of those, State of Law came out on top in nine, but only had a majority of seats in Basra and Baghdad. In those two they were able to name their own members as governors. They also put together coalitions in Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Qadisiyah, and Wasit to take the top executive positions there. In Muthanna however the council was deadlocked between the State of Law and the Supreme Council’s Al Mihrab Martyr List, until a member of Maliki’s List defected to the SIIC, giving them the governor. The competition between State of Law and the Supreme Council also allowed the Sadrists’ Independent Trend of the Noble Ones in Babil and the local list Loyalty to Najaf to gain the governorships in those two provinces. These deals show that the old Shiite United Iraqi Alliance is dead, and that the former allies Maliki’s Dawa Party and the Supreme Council are now rivals for power with the Prime Minister being in the ascendancy. Even then, his list only came away with pluralities in seven provinces meaning he doesn’t have unfettered control of the south, as seen in the fact that he was forced to give three other parties the top spots in Babil, Muthanna, and Najaf.
Of the remaining four provinces, new parties were the norm. The 2005 Sunni boycott allowed the Iraqi Islamic Party to win in Anbar. In that year however, the first rifts emerged between the province’s tribes and insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. This force later became known as the Awakening. Three young sheikhs, Abu Risha, Hayes, and Sulaiman emerged as the movement’s leaders. They would eventually become rivals and each would run separately in the 2009 vote. Abu Risha’s Awakening of Iraq and Independents ended up winning the most seats and named the governor. Something similar happened in Ninewa. In 2005 the Kurds took power there as the Sunnis largely stayed away from the polls. Their rule, large-scale violence, and lack of services created a lot of resentment that allowed the Al-Hadbaa List to win a majority. These were the two newcomers to Iraq’s political stage.
The one exception was the Iraqi Accordance Front, led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). While the IIP lost control of Anbar to Abu Risha’s Awakening List, they were able to take advantage of the increased Sunni turnout in 2009 to gain the governorships in Diyala and Salahaddin. In Diyala the Accordance Front joined with their old allies the Kurds and the Supreme Council, while in Salahaddin, they allied with former Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List.
There was even more diversity when one looks at what parties were named the head of each council. Nine lists were able to win or maneuver into those posts. While State of Law gained seven governorships, they only took four council heads in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, and Qadisiyah. In Maysan and Wasit State of Law had to join with the Supreme Council and in return gave them the council heads there. Similarly the Sadrists in Babil, ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Movement in Dhi Qar, and the local List Hope of Rafidain traded their support with State of Law for the top council position. In Anbar, Abu Risha’s Awakening List joined with parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Project, the Kurdish Alliance in Diyala and former Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List in Salahaddin allied with the Iraqi Accordance Front to gain the head of council seats. In Ninewa, al-Hadbaa won a majority so they were able to name both the governor and the council chief.
Iraq’s provinces are still dominated by the four major parties, Maliki’s Dawa and its State of Law List, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Kurdish Alliance, and the Iraqi Accordance Front. Those four control ten of fourteen governors and half of the council heads. At the same time only in Baghdad, Basra, and Ninewa did the victorious parties have a majority. That meant coalitions needed to be formed in all the rest. That allowed the Supreme Council, which seemed like the biggest loser to gain the governorship of Muthanna and force Maliki to give them the head of council in Maysan and Wasit. It also opened space for smaller parties like the Sadrists, the Loyalty to Najaf, the Iraqi National Project, the National Reform Movement, the Iraqi National List, and the Hope of Rafidain to gain important positions. Al Hadbaa was the only other party to win a majority, and now securely controls all the top spots in Ninewa. Now these parties need to prove that they can rule. Something that will be complicated by a slashed budget, and raised public expectations. What Iraqis think about their performances could be known within the year as parliamentary elections are expected, which are likely to re-arrange the country’s national politics like the provincials did for local ones.
Comparing Control of Governorships 2005 to 2009
2005 Governors By Parties - Provinces
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council – Babil, Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadisiyah
Kurdistan Democratic Party (Kurdish President Barzani) – Dohuk, Irbil, Tamim
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (President Talabani) - Sulaymaniya
Kurdish Alliance (Barzani and Talabani) - Salahaddin
Independent (Backed by Kurdish Alliance) – Ninewa
Sadrists - Maysan, Wasit
Iraqi Islamic Party (Vice President Hashemi) – Anbar
Fadhila Party – Basra
2009 Governors By Parties - Provinces
State of Law (Prime Minister Maliki) – Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Qadisiyah, Wasit
Iraqi Accordance Front (Vice President Hashemi) – Diyala, Salahaddin
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council - Muthanna
Sadrists – Babil
Awakening of Iraq and Independents (Sheikh Abu Risha) –Anbar
Al-Hadbaa List - Ninewa
Loyalty to Najaf - Najaf
2009 Heads of Councils By Parties - Provinces
State of Law (Prime Minister Maliki) – Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Qadisiyah
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council – Maysan, Wasit
Sadrists – Babil
Kurdish Alliance - Diyala
Iraqi National Project (Parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq)– Anbar
National Reform Movement (Ex-Prime Minister Jaafari) – Dhi Qar
Iraqi National List (Ex-Prime Minister Allawi) - Salahaddin
Al-Hadbaa List – Ninewa
Hope of Rafidain – Karbala
Ali, Fadhil, “Sunni Rivalries in al-Anbar Province Threaten Iraq’s Security,” Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, 3/11/08
Associated Press, “Iraqi provincial election results,” 2/19/09
Farrell, Stephen, “Election: Preliminary Results,” Baghdad Bureau Blog, New York Times, 2/5/09
Knights, Michael and McCarthy, Eamon, “Provincial Politics in Iraq: Fragmentation or New Awakening?” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 2008
Raghavan, Sudarsan, Shadid, Anthony and London, Ernesto, “Maliki Supporters Post Election Gains,” Washington Post, 2/3/09
Visser, Reidar, “Maliki Suffers Setbacks as Samarrai is Confirmed as New Speaker and More Governors Are Elected South of Baghdad,” Historiae.org, 4/19/09
- “Mixed Outcome for Maliki as Muthanna and Najaf Elect New Governors,” Historiae.org, 5/1/09
Zelikow, Philip, “The new strategic situation in Iraq,” Foreign Policy Online, 2/9/09