Iraqi Election

Despite insurgent threats to murder Iraqis who dared to vote in the parliamentary elections, yesterday’s Iraqi elections went as well as could be expected. There were dozens of bombs that exploded in Baghdad and other cities, killing at least 36 people, but many Iraqis shrugged off the violence and risked their lives to vote.

The turnout was estimated to be about 62 percent of Iraq’s 19 million eligible voters, which is down from the estimated 76 percent turnout in the last parliamentary elections in December 2005. But a positive sign was that turnout in Sunni Arab areas appears to have increased significantly over 2005, when many Sunnis boycotted the elections. This could lead to greater Sunni participation in the next government, which could further weaken Iraq’s faltering insurgency. Also, this time around the security duties were handled by Iraq’s security services instead of the 96,000 U.S. troops still in the country.

The full results of the voting are not likely to be known before Thursday. But early projections assess that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition appears to be the frontrunner, with former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya alliance, a secular nationalist coalition, and the Iraq National Alliance, a grouping of Shia religious parties backed by Iran, vying to place second.

No political coalition is expected to gain the 163 seats necessary to form a government in the 325 seat parliament. This will lead to extensive post-election negotiations between the three big Shia-led parties, the Kurdish coalition, and many smaller Sunni, Shia, Christian and independent parties. For a list of the various political parties see: Guide to the Iraqi Elections.

The election by itself is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for resolving Iraq’s major internal disputes, including disagreements over power sharing, the sharing of oil revenues, how to ease ethnic and sectarian tensions, territorial disputes (particularly between the Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christian minorities in the north), and the relationship between the central government and regional governments. The real test will come in the months ahead, as Iraqis form a coalition government that must effectively resolve these problems.

For more on U.S. Policy and Iraq, see: Charting U.S. Policy After Iraq’s Elections