The deadline for registering coalitions for the 2010 parliamentary elections expired in mid-November. But even though all the parties had submitted their lists by then, the Iraqi elections commission, the IHEC, kept postponing the publication of the lists pending the final passage of the election law. However, now the official list has been released.
The list contains relatively few surprises. There are only 12 coalitions, of which not more than around 6 seem truly competitive: Kurdistan, Tawafuq, the Iraqi National Alliance, State of Law, Unity of Iraq and Iraqiyya. For these, in turn, the line-up is more or less as expected, even though a few entities remained in doubt about their loyalties until the very end. Eventually, it was Maliki (and not Unity of Iraq) who got the amir of the powerful Rabia tribe of the Tigris on his side; the Iraqi National Alliance, for its part, has managed to enlist the support of the Shaykhi community of Basra. Also, as has been widely reported, the Independent Nationalist Trend of Mahmud al-Mashhadani and Nadim al-Jabiri opted to join Unity of Iraq alongside Wathab Shakir (who at one point was reported as having signed up for the independent Ayad Jamal al-Din); the same list also suffered a defection by Nehro Abd al-Karim who joined Khalaf al-Ulyan and Fadil al-Maliki (a Shiite mujtahid) to form a smaller coalition named the National Unity Alliance. Finally, Iraqiyya has now been confirmed in the shape that everyone has been talking about for weeks: To the Allawi-Mutlak core have been added powerful politicians like Tariq al-Hashimi, Rafi al-Eisawi and Usama al-Nujayfi, plus Tawfiq al-Abbadi, a businessman from Basra, Iskandar Watut from the mid-Euphrates region and Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi (the “Lord of the Marshes”, no longer calling himself Hizbollah of Iraq). A more formal launch of this expanded list is still expected to take place.
Of these, in turn, only the Kurdistan list is perfectly forthright and clear about its programme. All the others play the now predictable message that they represent all the elements of the Iraqi people from north to south and generally favour a vague programme of “national unity” and “anti-sectarianism”, often backed up by a symbolic parade of tribal chiefs from all parts of the country and religious leaders typically representing even the smallest of these components, such as Chaldean priests or Mandaeans. However, if one probes further, it makes sense to distinguish also between these remaining five coalitions in a number of ways. For example, in addition to the Kurds, both Tawafuq and the Iraqi National Alliance often mix their political message with a focus on ethno-religious sub-identities (Sunni and Shiite respectively); the three others seem to be more determined to avoid this. Similarly, both the Kurds and the National Iraqi Alliance highlight decentralisation as a virtue, and the latter has recently recruited both the pro-federal Turkmeneli party (literally “the land of the Turkmens”; unclear how that will play out with the Kurds!) as well as Fawaz al-Jarba, a Sunni tribal leader of the Shammar who has reportedly expressed an interest in decentralisation more recently (he was also part of the old UIA in 2005 but had been negotiating with Maliki). De-baathification is particularly important for State of Law and the National Iraqi Alliance.
In terms of control of the state apparatus, the State of Law is in a unique position, but the Unity of Iraq Alliance also has some influence through the interior ministry. The National Iraq alliance used to be well-entrenched within the system, but after its latest quarrels with Maliki it has sometimes found itself in an unusual alliance with Iraqiyya and the remnants of Tawafuq that increasingly have lost some of the influence which they enjoyed previously when they participated more fully in government. Often overlooked is the fact that the elections commission (IHEC) in practice is owned by the Kurds, the Shiite Islamists and Tawafuq, who effectively control 8 out of 9 commissioners. Iraqiyya is thought to have influence over one member of the commission whereas Unity of Iraq – a relative newcomer – has no representatives in the commission at all.
This all makes for a rather complex picture as Iraq moves forward towards the elections, now set for 7 March 2010 according to the latest reports from Baghdad (already changed from 6 March, which was reported earlier today). For voters, the fear must be that post-election coalition-forming becomes so important that few parties are willing to be clear about issues and prospective partners, simply out of fear from alienating anyone. For the United States, the new timeline could be a course of concern, since an election date in March means summer will come closer as a new government is being formed, and Ramadan next year falls in the late summer (around 10 August–10 September), thereby effectively prolonging the period of standstill in Iraqi politics.