Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The First Batch of New Iraqi Provincial Governments

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 June 2013 16:35

Since the final results of the Iraqi local elections were certified in late May, Iraqi local politicians have moved with reasonable speed towards forming new councils and appointing new governors. There has been much speculation about the way alliances are shaping up, but as of today, 8 out of 12 provinces that held elections on 20 April have actually completed the formalities of establishing new local governments.

In an echo of what happened in 2009, coalition formation has been a process full of surprises and not always in line with the most obvious predictions that emerged from the results themselves. Generally speaking, there has been a tendency of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s own concept of a “political majority” being employed against him, mostly after fellow Shiites from ISCI and the Sadrists decided to join forces to challenge his dominance in several provinces. Often these political majorities are based on little else than strong personal enmity towards Maliki and his State of Law Alliance, but this sentiment has proved sufficient to create anti-Maliki coalitions in some, if not all, the Shiite-majority governorates.

Perhaps the best way to typologise the new local governments is to sort them according to the level of conflict between the main blocs in settling the governorships and other top positions (of which the speakership is the most important).

First, there are consensus-based governorates where the Sadrist-ISCI deal at the national level gave way to local agreements and did not succeed in marginalising Maliki completely. These include Basra (ISCI governor, State of Law speaker), Maysan (Sadrist governor, State of Law speaker), Qadisiyya (Fadila governor, ISCI speaker). In Basra, the competition started out as a ISCI-Sadr coalition but Maliki’s State of Law eventually agreed to take the speakership, perhaps as a face-saving mechanism. It is a remarkable outcome that ISCI with only 6 seats won the governor position, and that the previous pro-Maliki governor – perhaps one of Iraq’s most popular politicians with more than 130,000 personal votes – was demoted to the speakership position. For its part, Maysan has seen Shiite grand coalitions before and the Sadrists simply retain their pre-eminent position, whereas the emergence of a pan-Shiite consensus government in previously contested Qadisiyya is a new phenomenon.

Second, there are competitive governorates. These include Najaf (local parties backed by State of Law in both top positions), Wasit (ISCI governor/Sadrist speaker), Baghdad (Sadrist governor/Mutahiddun speaker) and Dhi Qar (State of Law in both top positions). In these governorates, the votes on new government were characterised by boycotts and loud protests by the losers, highlighting the extent to which competition among the Shiite parties remains intense. The Baghdad outcome – where Maliki’s candidates also received a strong popular mandate in the shape of personal votes and a large number of seats – is another particularly interesting example that ISCI and the Sadrists are prepared to go to lengths to challenge Maliki. The inclusion of the Sunni-secular Mutahhidun bloc of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi makes the development even more interesting in that it approximates the logic that has sometimes manifested itself at the national level in challenges to Maliki’s premiership. Conversely, though, there is the example of the Sunni-majority Salahaddin – one of the first governorates to elect a new government after the latest elections – where a governor from a local bloc with a reasonably good relationship to Maliki was confirmed in power despite challenges from more anti-Maliki forces in the various Iraqiyya factions.

What remains are Karbala, Diyala, Babel and Muthanna. It will be interesting to see which of the two tendencies above – consensus or political majority – will prevail. As the table of results so far shows, there is no neat and easy correlation between seat results, political fragmentation and who gets the governorship:


So far, it seems ISCI in particular is finding back to the dexterity in coalition-building that characterised the party in 2005, when relatively modest electoral performance was translated into massive political influence through key positions in local government. That said, ISCI was also the party that got most heavily punished at the next local and national elections (2009 and 2010 respectively), meaning it may not be the biggest catastrophe for Maliki to have fewer incumbent governors come parliamentary elections time in 2014. Perhaps more crucial to the future of his premiership will be the outcome of delayed local elections in Anbar and Nineveh who vote on Thursday 20 June. Here, given the Sunni majorities, Maliki’s stakes are more indirect. However, the extent to which Sunni radicalism prospers in these areas as a spillover from the Syria conflict may be a key factor in Maliki’s chances of forming a viable electoral coalition for 2014.

9 Responses to “The First Batch of New Iraqi Provincial Governments”

  1. faisalkadri said


    Thank you for offering perspective to all the tidbits of information from the local election, this is useful.

    Many people observed the reversal of Maliki’s post election block formation maneuver. Maliki got his prime ministerial post by shady retroactive application of the law, that’s the real trick.
    Who knows what trick he can apply retroactively now?

  2. Thanks Faisal, interestingly there hasn’t been that much talk of legal challenges this time around. Only I can think of so far is Sadr/ISCI unhappy with Najaf. Maybe Maliki sees a potential advantage of not being the incumbent across the south in 2014?

  3. Salah said


    What Maliki’s Visits (Kiss) with Kurds leader Barazani? Is that in his maneuver for hold his fallen leafs?

    What about those dramatic unrest of bombing all cities (not north) which killed 1400 Irais which suprisngly faded after Maliki’s “Kiss” with Kurds leader Barazani?

  4. Salah, I’m not sure that much came out of the Arbil meeting. One interesting indicator at the local level could be the next provincial government of Diyala. In theory, the Shiites and Kurds have enough seats to form a government without Iraqiyya, or with just a few local lists as token “Sunni” representation. There was talk in that direction after the election, but then Iraqiyya and the Kurds seemed to agree on excluding the Shiites again. We’ll see whether we are back in 2005 very soon.

  5. Nadhim said

    I believe that the Prime Minister’s loss is multiple for two reasons; 1) He practiced an unprecedented sectarian build-up long time before the Election Day but that hasn’t been translated into more Shiit votes for his coalition. 2) Despites that the State of Law managed to attract vital Shiit blocs to its camp against its Shiit opponents such as Badr Organization, Fadhila Party and Reform Trend, it seems that those defected parties forgot to bring their voters with them.

  6. Nicasso said

    Hi Reidar,
    What practical implications do you see for the southern / central provinces that have declared so far? Provincial councils have consistently failed to spend their financial budgets and implement improved services, at least partly due to centralisation. Even with its strategic importance and pro Maliki governor, Basra City is still largely a slum (with a few exceptional districts, al Ashar, Mnawi Bashar etc). I don’t see this scenario improving with ISCI / Sadrists / Mutahidoun taking top positions ahead of Maliki loyalists.

  7. Salah said

    “Iraqiyya and the Kurds seemed to agree on excluding the Shiites again.”

    I hope as scholar and researcher/ analyses for Iraq & Gulf slipping to this by counting ” Iraqiyya and the Kurds” as “Pure” Sunni group.
    This was set by invader propaganda machine for very obvious reasons to invade Iraq as crocodile tears for Shiites in Iraq……

    However if Iraqiyya and the Kurds will work together but this not exactly can be tagged as you put it “excluding the Shiites again” as Iraqis had Shiites members with the “Kutlah” also the Kurds are mix of Sunni and Shiites. What I believe in my mind is they may push Da’awah Group (both wings (DawlateAl-Qanon (Maliki’s Group) & Da’awah (Ja’afari’s group))

  8. Salah said

    رئيس الوزراء محاصر، ويشعر بأن الخيارات تتقلص بين يديه. وأن الوقت لم يعد ممكناً لعقد أي صفقة جديدة، حتى لو كانت مكلفة لعهود فريقه السياسي، لا أظن أنه سيكون مقنعاً حتى لو تنازل كما لو لم يفعل أحد في حزبه لخصم لدود.

    المشكلة أن رهان المالكي على الأغلبية كان مبنياً على سلسلة أخطاء كارثية، فلم يكسب الضد النوعي من السنة، فجاءه ضده النوعي في الشيعة بضربة، ينبغي أن تجعله، من الآن، يقرأ نتائج انتخابات 2014.
    حزب الدعوة أمام لحظة تاريخية، موجعة وضرورية، في آن واحد.

    حزب الدعوة

  9. Nicasso, I see your points, on the other hand though it will be interesting to see whether maybe key positions like the governorships of Baghdad and Basra for the Sadrists and ISCI respectively might induce those parties to take governance a litt bit more seriously. In the past, the Sadrists insisted they were only interested in “service ministries”; well, now they’ve certainly got one. As for ISCI, they knew they lost in 2009 thanks to dismal governor performance in several places, so they, too, know that their future electoral success may be tied to performance in places like Basra.

    Salah, yes and no to that. Because in Diyala, the political parties did not give us much choice as regards terminology since all the Shiites decided to form a single list. To describe it as anything other than a sectarian Shiite list would be unfair. However, yesterday the Sadrists split away from the other Shiites to elect the new Diyala governor, which of course breaks with the sectarian paradigm again,

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