On October 15, 2009, the Sadrist movement held the very first primary election in Iraq’s post-Saddam era history. While the group hailed it as a step towards democracy, it was more a way to rally and gauge support before the 2010 parliamentary elections.
670 candidates ran for 50 positions. Voting was held in approximately 350 centers in thirteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, excluding the three in Kurdistan, Anbar, and Ninewa. Anyone could run as long as they met an age and background requirement. The Sadrists claimed 1.5 million people participated, but the day before a spokesman said that only 250,000 had registered. There were also no voter roles to check the balloting against.
As reported before, the Sadrists had a very mixed showing in the 2009 provincial elections. They did badly in Sadr City and Basra, two of their strongholds, lost control of Maysan province, and received a lower percentage of votes compared to 2005. At the same time, they gained representation across almost four times as many governorates as before, and joined the governing councils in Babil, Dhi Qar, Karbala, got the governorship of Babil, and the head of the council there and in Karbala.
Since then the Sadrists have joined the new Iraqi National Alliance. The List also includes former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party, and the Sadrists’ archrival the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Working with the SIIC was probably due to the influence of Iran, which played a leading role in putting the coalition together, and a realization by Moqtada al-Sadr that he cannot go it alone, like his followers did in 2009. The National Alliance however, lacks any ideological consistently, other than being Shiite, and opposed to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The primaries were a preliminary move before the actual 2010 vote. It helped gauge how much support they had, rallied the faithful, and gave their candidates the air of popular support. This is all part of the Sadrists’ new strategy of focusing upon politics and society. Sadr is gambling that by running with the National Alliance, he can gain more seats in parliament, and help put together a new ruling coalition, which would give him control of ministries. In 2006 he withdrew from the government, and lost all of his cabinet positions. It’s unclear how the Alliance will do however, especially since it is a deeply flawed list to begin with. It’s also not clear whether this will be a successful approach overall. Sadr always held large sway with the Shiite street through his anti-establishment militancy, and armed opposition to the U.S. presence. Now he is attempting to give much of that up and rejoin the mainstream, as he tried to do after the 2005 elections. That had mixed results as many of his supporters are opposed to the government, and there’s no telling whether this will do any better.
Faraj, Salam, “Sadrists choose candidates for Iraqi poll,” Agence France Presse, 10/16/09
Hussein, Jenan and Al Dulaimy, Mohammad, “An Iraqi primary election draws crowds but lacks safeguards,” McClatchy Newspapers, 10/16/09
Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Sadr Casts a Shadow Over Bush-Maliki Meeting,” Washington Post, 11/30/06
Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Iraq’s Parliamentary Election,” Institute for the Study of War, 10/21/09