News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqPro-Iran Shia group ahead in Iraq polls

Pro-Iran Shia group ahead in Iraq polls

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Financial Times: Candidates linked to an Islamist party with close ties to Iran won out over rivals in elections for Iraq’s provincial councils announced on Friday. The results provide an early glimpse of the balance of electoral strength within the Shia political movement, which is expected to dominate once the final results of the January 30 election – expected in the next two days – are announced. Financial Times

By Steve Negus and Dhiya Rasan in Baghdad

Candidates linked to an Islamist party with close ties to Iran won out over rivals in elections for Iraq’s provincial councils announced on Friday.

The results provide an early glimpse of the balance of electoral strength within the Shia political movement, which is expected to dominate once the final results of the January 30 election – expected in the next two days – are announced.

The strong turnout for slates associated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, (Sciri) suggests that it would have the advantage over its partners in a pan-Shia coalition in claiming key ministries.

However, some observers cautioned against reading too much into the results as a measure of the parties’ popularity, as many voters – particularly in the capital, where the provincial council elections took a back seat to the national ones – were unsure what the different slates represented.

Friday’s results coincided with fresh insurgent attacks on Shia targets which killed at least 23 people.

A car bomb killed at least 12 outside a Shia mosque in the town of Balad Ruz north-east of Baghdad, while masked gunmen sprayed a crowd outside a bakery in a mostly Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad, killing 11.

Although Sciri is considered one of the best organised of the parties to have participated in the elections and has a close relationship with influential clerics, it is also distrusted by many voters, including many Shia, because of its alliance with Tehran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The People of Baghdad list, Sciri’s slate for the capital’s municipal council, took 694,800 votes out of the 1,772,372 ballots cast in the provincial race, almost three times as many as its nearest rival, Baghdad Peace, associated with its main Shia rival, the Dawa party, and several other Islamist groups.

Sciri affiliates also won the largest number of votes in at least five out of eight other Shia majority governorates – underlining that their success was not just a Baghdad phenomenon. Other Islamist groups affiliated with various factions of the Dawa party, the Virtue party, and the followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were also making strong showings.

Sciri is one of the main parties making up the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shia-led coalition that is widely expected to take more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in the January election.

However, the alliance has frayed in the last few days, with different factions putting forward their own candidates for the office of prime minister.

Sciri has nominated the current finance minister Adel Abd al-Mahdi, a business-suited technocrat who gets along with US and other international officials and is considered less divisive than its party leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, a turbanned cleric who had a high-profile role during the Iran-Iraq war.

Nonetheless, the Dawa party continues to champion its own leader, current Vice-President Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who says that its candidate would be more acceptable to the public.

Iraq’s nascent military and security services, which contain a large number of former Sunni Arab officers, have been particularly hostile towards Sciri, with the secular Shia minister of defence openly accusing the party of being a pawn of Tehran.

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