It is a little unclear why this is not all over the newswires, but at any rate: The Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) today released the list of 6,172 approved candidates for the 7 March elections. This supposedly includes all candidates whose documents were found to be in good order and who are not subject to de-Baathification.
Until now, the Iraqi National Alliance (which enjoys a “special relationship” with the IHEC) has been the sole entity to publish all its candidate lists. The newly released material obviously includes thousands of names that are relatively unknown, but at least some characteristics of the competing top candidates in various provinces can be sketched out at this point. Starting in the south, in Basra the big battle will likely be between the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and State of Law (SOL). As has emerged earlier, INA has put a Sadrist plus the ex-Iraqiyya representative Wail Abd al-Latif at the top of their list alongside some important local figures like Amir al-Fayiz of the Shaykhi community. Maliki’s top candidate in Basra is Safa al-Din al-Safi, a long-time minister (most recently acting planning minister); Abd al-Hadi al-Hassani, an influential figure in the oil and gas committee is relatively far down the list at number eleven, Khayrallah al-Basri, previously with Iraqiyya, is number eight. Elsewhere in the “deep south”, INA already has revealed a list of well-known figures in the second-biggest prize to be won – Dhi Qar – including Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Bahaa al-Aaraji and ex-governor Alwan. SOL has now placed an independent candidate from a local religious family, Muhammad Mahdi al-Nasiri, at top of their list, with minister of state Shirwan al-Waili third. In the symbolically important Najaf, INA has Nassar al-Rubayi, a Sadrist, on top whereas Maliki has put Khalid Atiyya as his number one candidate in Qadisiyya.
Across the Shiite-majority areas south of Baghdad, the big question will be to what extent more secular and nationalist parties such as Iraqiyya and Unity of Iraq will be able to eat into the Shiite Islamist vote and go beyond the 10% threshold that has seemed pretty constant in many areas. A cursory glance at the list could suggest the secular parties could have needed a few more top candidates to radically change that picture, although incumbency and fame are of course not necessarily the best determinants of electoral success in today’s Iraq (or so we may hope). It is noteworthy that some of the few famous “southern” names in the secular coalitions do not seem to have put themselves forward as candidates proper. For example, The Lord of the Marshes (Muhammadawi) does not appear to be on the Iraqiyya lists anywhere in the three southernmost governorates. Abbas al-Mamuri is running as top candidate for Unity of Iraq in Babel, and Jamal Batikh for Iraqiyya in Wasit, but where is Ayad Jamal al-Din, the leader of the Ahrar party and a natural Dhi Qar candidate? Another notable omission in this category is of course Yusuf al-Habubi, the big sensation of the last local elections in Karbala. An ex-Baathist who did well on the basis of a good reputation and an ability to get things done, his performance in religious Karbala was seen as a sign of pragmatism among the electorate and it had been expected that he would run again for national office in the 7 March elections. But even though his “Flags of Iraq” alliance technically became part of SOL, his name is apparently nowhere on these lists – possibly another bad sign in terms of a potential shift back to a more sectarian political climate compared with 2009. Similarly, the Iraqiyya contingent from Basra in the current parliament has bifurcated, with Basri now as an SOL candidate and Wail Abd al-Latif having joined forces with lots of old enemies in INA.
The truly big battle is going to be Baghdad, with 68 seats and some 1,800 candidates, almost a third of the whole list. This is where all the major celebrities congregate. INA has already presented a Bagdhad list comprising two potential prime ministerial candidates (Jaafari and Bayan Jabr Solagh); they will now get serious competition from SOL (Maliki on top, followed by Haydar al-Abbadi, Husayn al-Shahristani and the son of the Shiite Islamist icon Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr as number five) as well as from Iraqiyya (Ayad Allawi is number one, other top candidates include Hassan al-Allawi, Ahmad Radi, Tariq al-Hashemi and Aliya Nusayf). Unity of Iraq has also put most of its top candidates in Baghdad, including Jawad al-Bulani on top, followed by Mahmud al-Mashhadani, Hashim al-Habubi, Wathab Shakir and Nadim al-Jabiri.
North of Baghdad, in Anbar, Iraqiyya has Rafi al-Isawi as their number one candidate. But it may seem as if Ahmad Abu Risha, of Unity of Iraq, has opted to not run for office here and instead has chosen to stay on the sidelines? SOL has the lesser known Abu Risha (Saad) as their number one here, and INA is fronted by Hamid al-Hayis; neither is expected to attract enormous numbers of voters. Further east, in Salahaddin, Maliki is running with his sports minister as top candidate. With several other Shiites following on the next places it does seem that much like INA he is trying to maximise the Shiite minority vote in Salahaddin instead of making a deliberate effort to come across as more “national” in this governorate. For its part, the Sunni-oriented Tawafuq has placed its party chairman on top of the list here and interestingly has also included its controversial (ex) governor here, as number three. Iraqiyya has Falah al-Naqib, a former minister of interior under Ayad Allawi, as its number three candidate in Salahaddin. Up in Kirkuk, Iraqiyya is looking strong with Muhammad Ali Tamim as first candidate. (He is from the Hiwar front of Salih al-Mutlak and an outspoken leader of the nationalist current that is seeking to retain the disputed governorate under central government control.) SOL has Abdallah Iskandar as their number one in Kirkuk, to some extent perhaps an attempt at reaching out to the Iraqi nationalist segment (but weren’t Abbad Mutlak al-Jibburi and Hajim al-Hasani supposed to be here too instead of in Baghdad?) Finally, in Mosul, unsurprisingly, it is Usama al-Nujayfi on top of the Iraqiyya list. SOL is running with the independent, Sunni Kurdish minister of planning Ali Ghalib Ali Baban as number one; like in Kirkuk Maliki in other words comes across as slightly more “national” in orientation than INA.
The lingering question is of course what, if anything, this release says about the ongoing de-Baathification process. Many had expected that no lists would be published until the appeals process had been exhausted. But the strange thing is that from a sample of 22 banned Iraqiyya candidates from Baghdad, at least 4 have been reinstated on this new list of 6,172 candidates. Nonetheless, since most of the top candidates whose cases are currently being reviewed by the appeals court have not been reinstated on this list (this includes Salih al-Mutlak), and since there has so far not been any major outcry by Iraqi political parties this evening, we must assume that the appeals process is still ongoing and that the limited number of reinstatements may relate to technicalities. Hopefully, the picture will soon clarify, because at the end of the day the general atmosphere of the election debate is probably going to mean much more for the overall outcome than the individual characteristics of these 6,000 plus candidates.