Results from the Iraqi provincial elections last Saturday are dribbling out in the form of leaks. Most reports seem to indicate that Prime Minister Maliki’s forces have been strengthened and that generally secular parties and supporters of a strong central government are doing well. Turnout is reportedly a bit over 50% in a country described as under “lockdown” (e.g. no private automobiles allowed to drive).
Juan Cole reports on what all this might and might not mean:
American corporate media will report the Iraqi provincial elections as a vindication of the 2003 US invasion of that country, and as a sign that Iraqis are eager to be like Americans. In places like Sadr City, the teeming slums of East Baghdad, many Iraqis voted as a protest against continued US military presence. Likewise, Sunni fundamentalists saw the vote as an assertion of Iraqi sovereignty. The elections come in the wake of the Status of Forces Agreement that pledges all US troops will be out of the country by 2011, and in the wake of the election of Barack Obama in the US, who has committed to having most US troops out in 16 months. The sharp fall in deaths of civilians and security personnel in January, to 189, is not a sign that Bush won but rather that the Iraqis have. No point in blowing things up if the US is leaving anyway, and less reason to resist the new federal Iraqi government if Sunni Arab elites can rule their own provinces.
It is not the US presence in Iraq that Iraqis are celebrating in this election but Washington’s imminent departure.
President Obama did point to the elections as another reason why U.S. troop withdrawals could begin. When asked if he could assure the troops “that a substantial number of them will be home” a year from now Obama replied “Yes”. There’s more analysis and reported regional results at Cole’s Informed Comment.