Since 2005, southern Iraq, with the exception of Basra, has been dominated largely by three forces: Maliki’s Dawa party, the Supreme Council and followers of Sadr. Those forces appeared to have retained their presence on the ground, with a telling shift: The Supreme Council’s dominance may give way to Dawa, which was winning the largest number of votes in all but one of southern Iraq’s nine provinces, according to party activists, election officials and observers.
If proved by final results, Dawa’s success would stand as a startling victory for Maliki’s attempt to translate his stature as a leader credited, rightly or wrongly, with restoring order in Iraq into grass-roots power for his party.
Maliki’s supporters had sought to cast their program in nationalist terms, advocating a strong central government in Baghdad. While still an avowedly Islamist party, it stressed more the rule of law than religious imagery. That contrasted with the agenda of the Supreme Council, which had advocated a federal region for the south modeled on the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. The Supreme Council still seemed dogged, too, by the perception that it was unduly influenced by Iran, where it was created in 1982. Of the large parties, it remains possibly Iraq’s most ardently sectarian.
Before the vote, the Supreme Council said it was virtually guaranteed to win four provinces outright — Najaf, Babel, Qadisiyah and Dhi Qar — and emerge as the single biggest bloc in the rest. Although numbers could change as final results are tallied, Dawa appeared to emerge in the lead in every province but Karbala, where an independent candidate was vying with Dawa for the largest number of votes.
Without citing numbers, the Supreme Council said in a statement that it had placed first or second in 11 of the 14 provinces. But even at this early stage, its leaders acknowledged that their advocacy of federalism and decentralization may have hurt their chances.