Finally, Iraqi authorities have confirmed the date of long-postponed provincial elections. There will be a roughly two month campaign season and elections on January 31.
Here's where the games start in earnest, because the Green Zone elites are in serious trouble if the elections go forward without a "guiding finger on the scales", so to speak:
According to a survey published by an Iraqi NGO, the Al-Amal Association, only 22.7 percent of 12,000 people polled in 11 provinces said they will vote for religious parties or blocks.
Voting for independent candidates is deemed a priority for 26.3 percent of the surveyed public of 11,000 Iraqis, while 23.7 percent said they will select democratic and secular blocks.
In the last provincial elections, in December 2005, religiously-affiliated parties won all the seats in the councils, with the exception of the Kurdish region and Kirkuk.
Expect every dirty trick in the book, from ballot stuffing to candidate assassinations to voter supression at gunpoint. And remember that secular candidates were meant to do a lot, lot better than they actually did in every set of Iraqi elections so far - for pretty much the same reasons.
More, the date sets aside four provinces, pointing up the "Kurdish Problem":
First scheduled for October 1, the polls were postponed when the national parliament struggled to pass an election law because of concerns over the disputed oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk.
The January ballot will be held in only 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces after the new law excluded Kirkuk and the three Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah.
Elections in the three Kurdish provinces will not be held until after March 2009 and the existing multi-communal council will continue to administer the province of Kirkuk.
Kirkuk is the biggest potential flashpoint in Iraq nowadays and the Kurds are using every trick they can think of to write their own writ in the areas they claim. Right now, they're digging their heels in and refusing to consider amendments to the Constitution, which have been seen as just as important to reconcilliation attempts as these elections.
I just don't see these elections, and the subsequent protracted playing out of Kurdish differences with the rest of the country, as being violence free. The question really is how bad will it be and how much will resultant bad blood retard rather than advance reconcilliation. There's no easy fix, but at least there's now a firm, Iraqi-imposed, exit date for the US and its coalition allies. I always found it ridiculous that the Pottery Barn rule had been reinterpreted as "we broke it, so we get to tell you how to run your store from now on".
Crossposted from Newshoggers