Latest results from Karbala show that the State of Law will win at least six of the ten seats available int the province. According to information published by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), after counting 90% of the votes, the State of Law list has won 158,477 votes in Karbala, the IUNA 72,455 and Al-Iraqiya of Allawi won 32,715 votes.
Maliki and many prominent members of the Islamic Dawa party are originally from Karbala, which many have pointed to as a reason for the State of Law’s popularity there. Khalid Ulaiwi al-Ardawi, a law professor, disagrees with the notion that Maliki’s success comes down to localism.
“Al-Maliki’s lead in most of the southern provinces is actually a clear indication that Iraqi voters have overcome the blind affiliation to a certain area or a certain sect. Maliki’s appeal is broad,” he said.
The comparative lack of success of Maliki and other party members in Karbala in the 2009 elections helps to back up this view.
But there are many other reasons why people in Karbala, the holiest Shia city, have chosen Maliki over his rivals.
“Al-Maliki became Prime Minister in a critical phase of Iraq’s history and was able to bring security to the country,” said al-Ardawi. “Karbala is one of the most prominent tourist areas in the county and its economy depends on stable security conditions.”
Hussein Ridha, who owns a sweet shop in Karbala market place said he voted for Maliki because he believed him to be the candidate with the only truly national agenda. Ridha believes many of Maliki’s rivals failed by aligning themselves with foreign countries.
“People became reluctant to vote for them,” he says, “because their rhetoric became devoid of any Iraqi national aspirations.”
Iraq’s relations with its neighbors, especially with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, were a focal point in the propaganda campaigns of the different political blocs. Many Shia parties maintained close ties with Iran, while Sunni parties were much more hostile, accusing Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to exclude Sunnis from the political process. Meanwhile, however, Shia groups accuse some Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia and Syria, of destabilising security in Iraq, of supporting the armed Sunni groups that have targeted citizens and of supporting a return to the political scene of the Baath Party.
Shia groups point to Saudi Arabia’s refusal to meet with Nouri al-Maliki ahead of the election, claiming that his term as Prime Minister is over. At the same time, they were willing to meet other candidates, such as Iyad Allawi and Tareq al-Hashimi, the country’s vice president.
Muhammad Issa, a writer and a journalist, believes that the relations between the different political parties with foreign and Arab countries have played a big role in influencing the voters’ choices.
“The close relations between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Iran, have made the council lose lots of voters. Allawi’s close relations with Saudi Arabia have made him similarly lose lots supporters,” he said.
“Politicians seeking to build close relations with neighbouring countries were telling voters that their legitimacy is based on this or that country. The Iraqi voter wants a stable and independent Iraq, respected by its neighbours, not beholden to them,” he added.
Husam al-Ma’lamanji, a candidate for the Iraqiya list in Karbala, rejected the idea, however.
“Tense relations with neighboring countries do not serve Iraq and will not lead to stability and progress. Close relationships with neighbouring states should be seen as part of the candidates’ openness to good foreign relations, especially with Iraq’s closest neighbours,” he argued.
He complains that many Iraqi politicians, notably Maliki, who blames Syria and Saudi Arabia for insurgenct in the country, are inspired by conspiacy theories. Al-Ma’lamanji also suggested that the election results may have been influenced by fraud and the buying of votes. He denies that Iraqiya was involved in this behaviour, though the reason he gave for this was, worryingly, a lack of resources.
“The list did not buy votes and did not give any gifts to voters, because, the list doesn’t have enough money for such practices and it is one of the lists that has weak financial resources.”
Fuad al-Doraki, a member of the Dawa Party, challenges that idea, however.
“We saw in the provincial elections of January 2009, Youssef al-Habboubi, an independent candidate, wining the most votes in Karbala. If there was fraud or buying of votes, he wouldn’t have been able to do so well,” he claims.