Results are still being tallied in Iraq’s provincial election, but preliminary returns, as reported by Dubai’s Al-Sharqiyah television, sound on the whole like good news from the standpoint of the United States — and bad news from the standpoint of Iran.
The preliminary results — still subject to change, I should stress — indicate that the big winners are the State of the Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the Iraqi List, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Since Maliki took on Moqtada al Sadr’s thugs last spring, he has been seen as a tough-on-security centrist who is resistant to Iranian attempts to dominate his country. That has been Allawai’s reputation all along.
So it is significant that Maliki and Allawi appear to be running strong in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, Babil and Diwaniyah provinces — i.e., in the Shiite heartland. Their gains are a blow to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has been one of the dominant forces, along with the Mahdists, in southern Iraq. Though ISCI has cooperated closely with American officials, it is also the major Iraqi party that is most closely identified with Iran.
Sadr, who at one time looked to be a kingmaker in Iraqi politics, appears increasingly marginalized. He is not even running a political slate in these elections, although his followers have endorsed some candidates. Those Sadr-backed candidates claim to be doing well in Maysan and Babil provinces, but those claims have not been confirmed so far.
Assuming that the preliminary results hold up, it will be another blow to Iran, which already suffered repudiation last year when the Iraqi parliament came to terms on an agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in their country until at least the end of 2011.
The claims made by so many analysts not long ago that the U.S. war in Iraq was a huge win for Iran are not holding up. Likewise for the claims that an outside power could not possibly create a democracy in the Middle East. While Iraq’s democracy remains fragile and imperfect, it is nevertheless impressive to see its people not only casting votes but apparently selecting fairly centrist, secular candidates who are, by all indications, committed to an alliance with the U.S.