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WikiLeaks: 2009-01-27: 09BAGHDAD210: Provincial Elections: A Serious Contest with Serious National Implications

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD210: January 27, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 03:04 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD210 2009-01-27 12:55 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #0210/01 0271255
O 271255Z JAN 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BAGHDAD 000210 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2019 
Classified By: Acting DCM Robert Ford for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
1. (C) Summary: Iraq's provincial elections represent a 
milestone in the country's political progression.  In 
general, the campaigns have been competitive, sometimes 
Sharply so.  Political parties and local officials in most 
regions have perceived the election commission to be 
competent and fair, if not perfect.  Candidates are 
campaigning aggressively, the media is saturated with 
election-related information, and polling indicates a likely 
high level of participation.  In order to maximize the 
credibility of the election process and working closely with 
the United Nations, the U.S. Mission and Coalition Forces are 
heavily involved in supporting the Independent High Electoral 
Commission (IHEC).  We have provided logistical assistance 
and security, and Mission personnel and other international 
representatives will be observing the voting throughout the 
2.  (C)  For Sunni Arabs, this is an opportunity to remedy 
the marginalization many felt after boycotting the 2005 
provincial elections.  For the Shi'a, the election highlights 
divisions between the Prime Minister's Dawa party and the 
rival Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) of Abdul-Aziz 
al-Hakim, and positions those parties for a high stakes clash 
in national elections planned for late 2009 or early 2010. 
Importantly, the Sadr trend, which also boycotted in 2005, 
has endorsed candidates and is urging its followers to vote. 
This election will trigger implementation of the Provincial 
Powers Law (PPL), which grants significant new power to 
provincial governments.  It will also underscore divisions 
between Iraqis (such as the PM and many Sunni Arab 
nationalists) who favor a strong central government, and 
those (such as ISCI and the Kurds) who support greater power 
for provinces and regions.  End Summary. 
Iraqis Set to Vote Amidst Improved Security 
3. (C) On January 31, Iraqi voters in 14 governorates will 
participate in Provincial Council elections.  In comparison 
to the 2005 elections, the security situation is much 
improved, with much less violence than was the case in 2005. 
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) will vote in all 
provinces.  According to IHEC, 14,431 candidates have 
registered to compete for 440 provincial council seats.  IHEC 
plans to announce preliminary results by February 4, and 
certified results by February 23.  Provincial Councils will 
be seated no later than 15 days after the certified results 
are issued, and will then have 30 days to select a governor. 
4. (C) Iraq's political elite perceives high stakes in the 
election and is aggressively campaigning.  Strong Sunni 
participation is expected, and the elections should help 
remedy the damage done by the Sunni boycott in 2005 and the 
subsequent underrepresentation in key provinces like Baghdad, 
Ninewa, Salah ad-Din and Diyala. 
Provincial Powers Law 
5. (SBU) The PPL takes effect upon formation of new 
provincial councils.  It defines the structure of provincial 
and local government (including the Governor), their 
authorities, and their relationship to the national 
government.  The PPL grants councils the power to elect a 
governor and two deputies, and legislative authority relating 
to provincial administration and budgets. The PPL also 
establishes provincial government authority over executive 
bodies (including the power to nominate and fire police 
chiefs) within the province.  Provincial governors will have 
Qchiefs) within the province.  Provincial governors will have 
the power to nominate senior officials, and have direct 
authority over local security agencies except the armed 
Voter Outreach 
6. (C) The United Nations is leading voter outreach efforts 
and has established the International Electoral Assistance 
Team (IEAT) to coordinate.  IEAT includes representatives 
from IHEC, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems 
(IFES - a USAID contractor).  IHEC has directed all themes 
and messaging, and foreign partners, including the U.S. 
Mission and MNF-I, have provided technical assistance and 
logistical assistance.  The UN, IFES and several NGOs funded 
by DRL provided IHEC with additional technical assistance, 
and produced and disseminated outreach products around the 
country, focusing particularly on the complexity of the 
BAGHDAD 00000210  002 OF 004 
7. (C) After Parliament passed the Provincial Election Law in 
September, IHEC was slow in developing messages and 
acknowledging the value of a comprehensive voter outreach 
strategy.  The UN, the Embassy, MNF-I and others encouraged 
the Commissioners to increase IHEC outreach and public 
relations activities.  State/DRL Bureau grantees 
International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), the 
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the 
International Republican Institute (IRI), and others have 
produced and disseminated hundreds of thousands of posters 
and flyers, scores of newspaper supplements, and dozens of 
television and radio broadcasts with voter education, 
including how to vote on the complicated ballots.  These 
materials augment IHEC messages, and have avoided 
partisanship.  As Election Day approaches, Iraqi television 
and radio stations have been saturated with election outreach 
programming.  Daily newspapers include several page sections 
showing candidate lists and mock ballots as well as 
descriptions of the security and logistics that voters may 
expect.  The UN's Chief Elections Officer, Sandra Mitchell, 
told us that "outreach is as good as it can get; it has 
reached saturation."  The outreach started slow but appears 
to finally be having an impact.  An early January 2009 poll 
conducted for the National Democratic Institute showed that 
68 percent of the respondents here said they felt very or 
somewhat informed about the new election system with its open 
U.S. Mission Support for Election Observation 
8.  (C) IHEC has invited 77 international organizations and 
all diplomatic missions in Iraq to credential election 
observers (Reftel).  375 U.S. Mission staff will deploy to 
polling centers in 17 Governorates on Election Day.  A 
smaller number will observe special needs voting January 28, 
when Iraqi Security Forces and detainees will vote.  Teams 
will include 43 U.S. Embassy observers, 183 PRT staff, and 85 
security personnel. 
9. (C) In addition to USG observers, observers from the 
following countries/organizations will participate:  Turkey 
(24), the Arab League (20), the UK (14), EU Members of 
Parliament (4-7), Italy (6), Japan (6), Spain (5), Islamic 
Congress (5), the Assyrian Council of Europe (4), France (3), 
Denmark (3), Sweden (3), Norway (3), the EU Mission (2), 
Australia (2), Czech Republic (2), Greece (1), Netherlands 
(1), Poland (1), Romania (1), and Canada (1).  The UN will 
field 26 observers on 11 teams in Baghdad, Basrah, Dahuk, 
Diyala, Erbil, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salah ad-Din.  The U.S. 
Mission and MNF-I are facilitating the movement of the 
majority of these observers. 
Clean and Fair ? 
10.  (C) In general, we sense that the campaigns have allowed 
for real competition and real choices for the voters although 
there have certainly been exceptions and election law 
violations.  A January 27 press report stated that IHEC had 
issued penalties against 70 political parties and entities 
for committing over 180 violations.  In some southern 
provinces, candidates have told us they are concerned that 
ISCI/Badr controls the Governorate Election Offices (GEO). 
Vote-buying allegations are widespread, especially concerning 
ISCI/Badr, but also Da'wa.  The turnout of Iraqi observers, 
both from NGOs and political parties, will be important to 
minimizing fraud. 
11.  (C)  Two provinces appear to be particularly 
problematic.  In Diyala, Sunni Arabs believe they were 
targeted by a politicized security operation launched last 
Qtargeted by a politicized security operation launched last 
summer by the Prime Minister.  Notably, many Sunni Arab 
Islamic Party activists either were arrested or harassed by 
Iraqi security units during the autumn and early winter. 
Although they apparently comprise a majority of the 
province's population, Sunni contacts in Diyala complain 
bitterly of intimidation, and predict fraud.  Meanwhile, 
Kurdish and Shia political activists complain that voters who 
support them will not be able to vote because they didn't 
register as internally displaced and will not be able to get 
to their homes to vote due to Diyala's still difficult 
security climate. 
12. (C) Meanwhile, the campaign in Ninewa has featured two 
high-profile assassinations (probably carried out by AQI or 
associated local groups) and some political harassment of 
Sunni Arab-led parties perpetrated by Peshmerga or Kurdish 
units of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), especially in 
Sinjar and Zumar (western Ninewa).  The Kurds complained to 
BAGHDAD 00000210  003 OF 004 
us that thousands of their IDPs displaced from Ninewa never 
registered to vote as IDPs and hence won't get to vote.  They 
have not pushed back much against our argument that the IDPs 
had a chance to register and when the voter lists are 
finished, they have to be finished.  Significantly, IHEC has 
also refused to add names to the register.  There could be 
post-election complaints of fraud if - as is likely - no 
party does as well as it expects. In sum, even in the 
province of Ninewa we think voters in most areas have a real 
choice and will have a fair chance to express their opinion 
via the polls. 
Opportunity and Challenge for Iraqi Sunni Arabs 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
13. (C) After boycotting the 2005 provincial elections Sunni 
Arab representation in some key provincial councils, such as 
Ninewa, Diyala, Baghdad and Salah ad-Din was substantially 
less than their share of the voting population.  In a January 
2009 poll conducted for the National Democratic Institute, 68 
percent of Sunni Arabs questioned said they were likely to 
vote in the provincial elections.  Despite renewed political 
engagement, the Sunni Arabs' impact in the elections may be 
diluted by internal divisions.  Notably, and Vice President 
Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) is struggling to maintain 
its position as the preeminent Sunni Party. 
14. (C) IIP interlocutors fear their constituency has eroded. 
 Hundreds of thousands of potential IIP voters have 
fled to Syria and Jordan, and there is a popular perception 
that the party has failed to capitalize on its participation 
in the national government or in Anbar, where it controls the 
provincial council, to improve government services or exerted 
sufficient leverage to counterbalance Maliki's consolidation 
of power.  Some pundits here note a public preference for 
technocrats over religious parties.  In this challenging 
environment, the IIP faces smaller Sunni groupings 
representing secular ex-Ba'thists (e.g. Saleh Mutlaq's Hewar, 
or in Ninewa, Athiel al-Nujaifi's Hadba), harder-line 
conservatives (e.g. ex-speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani's National 
Dialogue Council), and nascent tribal political groupings. 
15. (C) In Anbar, a key Sunni tribal movement, backed by the 
Brother of deceased Shaykh Abdel Sattar Abu Risha who founded 
the Awakening (Sahwa) fighters, has allied with the IIP, a 
top IIP official told us on January 24.  In Anbar, other 
tribal leaders are challenging the IIP, and another of Shaykh 
Abdel Sattar's brothers, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, has claimed 
that his Iraqi Awakening Conference carries the mantle of the 
Awakening movements that chased Al-Qaida out of the province. 
 However, Sunni interlocutors have told us that Abu Risha's 
overtures to the IIP have splintered the 
Awakening movement, which had been perceived as a strong 
voting bloc in Anbar.  Another strong Sunni tribal grouping, 
the Iraqi Salvation Council, features the telegenic Shaykh 
Ali Hatem and enjoys the apparent support of PM Maliki. 
16. (C) Diyala is another key battleground.  Sunnis They also 
face well organized challenges from Shi'a parties who could 
partner with minority Kurds to form a provincial government, 
which could lead to significant disappointment. 
17. (C) In Ninewa, elections should result in a shift of 
political power from the current Kurd-dominated PC to a 
Council more representative of this majority Sunni Arab 
province.  Sunni Arab participation in the political process 
could also drain support from the insurgency.  A hard-line 
secular Sunni nationalist party, Hadba, has gained 
Qsecular Sunni nationalist party, Hadba, has gained 
substantial support among anti-Kurd voters and will likely be 
among the top three vote-getters, with the Kurds and IIP. 
However, the IIP's willingness to ally with either Hadba or 
the Kurds could give it an over-sized role as king-maker. 
Sunni Arab votes likely will be split among several parties 
(including Hadba and IIP), which could dilute their 
influence.  Because of the separate vote for three seats 
allocated Yezidi, Christian, and Shabak candidates, minority 
communities may be under-represented on the new PC. 
Southern Provinces and Baghdad: Dawa-ISCI Showdown 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
18. (C) The competition is heated in Iraq's southern, 
predominantly Shi'a provinces, and Baghdad.  In many 
provinces a majority or large minority of PC members are not 
running for re-election (only 8 of 35 are running for 
re-election in Basra), meaning that the new councils will 
have considerable new blood even if the parties hold their 
BAGHDAD 00000210  004 OF 004 
19. (C) UIA coalition partners ISCI/Badr and Da'wa are 
squaring off throughout the southern provinces and in Baghdad 
through their respective "State-of-Law" (Etilaf Dawlat 
al-Qanoon) and "Martyr of the Pulpit" (Shahid al-Mihrab) 
coalition lists.   Fadhilah, Sadrist parties, and Dr. Ibrahim 
Jaafari's National Reform Trend may gain enough seats to 
become influential in some provinces.   ISCI/Badr currently 
holds the Governorship and a governing plurality on the PCs 
in Najaf, Babil, Diwaniyah, and Dhi Qar provinces, while 
maintaining smaller PC pluralities in Baghdad, Wasit, and 
Muthanna.  Da'wa controls the Prime Minister's Karbala 
Province, a coalition of Sadrists runs Maysan, and a Fadhilah 
Governor presides over the highly fractured Basra PC. 
20. (C) Post contacts indicate widespread dissatisfaction 
with poor PC performance, which will hurt incumbents.  Only 
the respective governing parties in Najaf and Karbala are 
favored to retain power, and several provinces (including 
Baghdad and Basra) will likely see changes in leadership. 
Most religious parties, with the notable exception of 
ISCI/Badr, have downplayed their religious credentials and 
are promoting technocratic and professional candidates. 
Support for Maliki appears strong throughout the region. 
Polling and anecdotal evidence suggest that his personal 
popularity may translate into increased support for Da'wa and 
his coalition slate. 
Comment: Elections May Hasten Evolving Political Landscape 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
21. (C) In addition to helping entrench Iraq's Sunnis into 
the democratic political process by giving them a greater 
role in government, these elections provide Iraqis with an 
opportunity to choose between two competing visions for the 
country's future.  PM Maliki advocates a government with 
strong central authority, a vision that contrasts sharply 
with ISCI and Kurdish support for federalism and substantial 
provincial and regional power.  Maliki's vision is shared, 
however, by many Sunni Arab nationalists who are currently 
outside the governing coalition.  Given that the Provincial 
Powers Law provides substantial power - including over 
security - to provincial governments, the formation of new 
provincial governments will bring into sharper focus these 
competing visions for Iraq. 
22. (C) The elections could also hasten the fragmentation and 
collapse of the main Shi'a parliamentary bloc, the United 
Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which has dominated Iraq's political 
landscape.  Since it may be difficult for Dawa and ISCI to 
work together at the provincial level after the elections, 
the post-election period could witness the emergence of new 
governing coalitions. In a recent meeting, independent Shi'a 
UIA CoR member Dr. Jabir Habib Jabir told Poloff that the 
parties and lists that finish behind Dawa and ISCI will be 
king-makers in these elections. This could portend the 
formation of new coalitions at the national level.  With the 
debate over the future shape of Iraq gaining prominence, 
pitting the PM and other proponents of a strong central 
government against ISCI, the Kurds, and others supporters of 
federalism, the ramifications of new alliances cannot be 
discounted. This debate could also accelerate a trend away 
from the sectarian politics that have dominated much of 
Iraq's post-Saddam history. 


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