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January 28, 2009

FiveThirtyEight Iraq Style
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There is no Nate Silver.  There are no fancy graphs. No boatloads of data.  No regression analysis.  But ICG's report (PDF) about the upcoming provincial elections is probably the best resource out there on the state of play of the upcoming provincial elections.  If you're specifically interested in the intra-Shi'a portion I'd also suggest Peter Juul and Matt Duss's report today. 

For those that don't have the time to read p on all of this, here are some basic conclusions that I took out of the reading and general trends

1.  High voter turnout expected.  As opposed to 2005 when there Sunnis largely boycotted, there seems to be broad excitmenet and participation across the spectrum.  It remains to be seen whether the elections will be perceived as fair and whether they'll be able to integrate some of the marginalized groups, particularly the Sunnis.  But the level of political activity and engagement is a good thing.

2.  A change election?  There is major disillusionment with many of the parties that were voted into power in 2005.  Iraqi voters are generally ready for change and appear willing to take a chance on some challengers.

3.  Incumbent retain institutional advantages.  The governmental system of patronage and corruption still provides many of the incumbent parties (ISCI, Dawa, the Kurdish Parties and the IIP) with a built in advantage.  As the ICG report explains

In a system steeped in patronage and with high levels of public-sector employment (a third of the labour force),  ruling parties can remind government employees of the benefits (job security) associated with their continued hold on power.

4.  The challengers are divided.  The main challenger parties including he Sadrists, the groups that make up the Sunni Awakening Councils, and other secular parties were never able to form a cohesive alliance despite the fact that all of them have common nationalist perspectives.  The result is diffuse and divided lists that will make it more difficult for them to compete.

5.  Watch out for the battleground provinces.  The hot spots are likely to be in areas where the Sunni boycott led to the formation of unrepresentative provincial councils after the 2005 elections.  In Ninevah, a Sunni majority province, the Kurds control 75% of the Council.  In Anbar, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, the Sunni religious IIP dominates the council because it was the only party to compete in 2005.  In Diyala, another mixed province, the Sunnis are badly underrepresented.  And of course Baghdad, the most ethnically diverse province in the country, also presents a complicated and unpredictable picture.  If things do get ugly, they are likely to get ugly in these particular areas


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Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.

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