They have been long in the making but now they are finally published: The lists of 8,100 candidates for Iraq’s 20 April local elections. This is quite a substantial source of 200 plus pages of candidate names, but at least some initial conclusions can be drawn regarding how the battle is shaping up in the various provinces.
One way of looking at the candidates and the competing coalitions is to study which political movements compete in all of the country, and which are limited to particular areas and regions. From that angle, it is clear that only one list fields substantial numbers of candidates throughout the country from Anbar and Nineveh in the north to Basra in the south: The secular Iraqiyya headed by Ayad Allawi. Even before the ballots have been cast, this must be considered something of a triumph for Iraqiyya (list 486), which has shown considerable signs of cracks and internal splits during the political turmoil following the US exit from Iraq in December 2011. Despite rumours of major defections as well as the emergence of actual splinter groups, Iraqiyya continues to muster candidates in Sunni and Shiite areas alike.
Iraqiyya is the only major coalition to do so. Unlike the situation in 2009, the Shiite Islamist parties have decided to form one umbrella Shiite ticket in all areas where the Shiites are minorities (list 472 in Salahaddin, list 463 in Nineveh and list 501 in Diyala) and are not competing at all where there is no significant Shiite electorate (Anbar). A clearer message of sectarian disinterest could hardly have been formulated: These coalitions are no longer even trying to compete for the vote of people of a different sect, quite similar to the well-established ethnic strategy of the Kurds (list 469 across the northern governorates). As for the situation in the Shiite-majority areas south of Baghdad, it is shaping up as a three-way struggle for the Islamist vote between Muwatin or ISCI (411), the expanded State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that is now also featuring the Badr organisation and Fadila (419), and the Sadrist or Ahrar list (473).
The rest of the field consists of two things: Firstly, coalitions who have tried to follow the Iraqiyya model of contesting both Shiite and Sunni areas, but without the ability to cover all of the country; secondly, local curiosities. To the first group belong parts of the Iraqiyya parliamentary bloc that have decided to run separately in the local elections, including most prominently the Mutahhidun (444) of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi and his brother Athil, the governor of Mosul. In addition to Nineveh, this list is running in Basra, Baghdad, Salahaddin and Anbar. The inclusion of Basra makes it look like more than a narrowly oriented regional coalition, although the number of candidates it is fielding there (8) is unimpressive. Similar attempts to be national without really succeeding can be seen in Saleh al-Mutlak’s list (list 425 in Baghdad, Anbar, Salahaddin and list 466 in Muthanna) and among Iraqiyya breakaway elements like the pro-Maliki White (456, running only in Basra, Babel, Qadisiyya and Karbala) as well as Free Iraqiyya (list 467 running in Baghdad and Diyala and list 499 in Karbala).
There are several local phenomena that will make for special dynamics in particular governorates. In Anbar, Allawi, Nujayfi and Mutlak are challenged by several lists with a more local orientation, as is the case in Salahaddin (including the list of the governor, 430). In many of the Shiite-majority areas, there are small independent challengers to Maliki, including an independent list in Basra run by a prominent businessman (432). Powerful local lists that helped Maliki win control in Karbala and Najaf in 2009 are still running separately there (434 and 441 respectively, though the Karbala governor himself is now on the Maliki list). One of the small Shiite Islamist parties, the Tanzim al-Dakhil branch of the Daawa, has elected to run separately in most governorates (list 460), and the shadowy, possibly pro-Maliki Knights of the Law Supporters (484) appear with small lists in Salahaddin, Wasit, Baghdad, Dhi Qar and Diyala.
A couple of hundred candidates have been provisionally struck from the lists by the de-Baathification committee. This is a lower percentage than in the parliamentary elections of 2010, though a cursory reading of omitted candidates suggests it is once more the Sunni-majority governorates and the secular parties that are taking the heaviest toll. They still have the possibility to appeal the decisions individually, and a final roll of last-minute approved candidates will be published by IHEC.
All in all, the candidate lists suggest a political atmosphere that is looking more sectarian than in 2009, with the Shiite parties largely giving up the fight for Sunni votes. To what extent Iraqiyya will actually succeed in its nationally oriented strategy, remains to be seen as well. Nonetheless, given Iraq’s increasingly homogeneous sectarian population patterns, the majority of these contests will be of an intra-sectarian nature. To some extent, the electorate will give their verdict on four years of rule by Maliki allies; these figures are now at the top of the State of Law list in their respective areas, including in places like Basra and Baghdad. The concomitant sectarian infighting can perhaps in itself have some positive impact on an Iraqi political situation that seems stalemated internally and under severe pressures from regional dynamics, above all in Syria.