Key provincial elections split Sunni Arabs in Iraq
The elections will choose governing councils in Iraq's 18 provinces and are seen as a key step in repairing the country's sectarian rifts, particularly by opening the door for greater Sunni Arab political representation.
Many Sunnis boycotted the last provincial balloting in January 2005, enabling Shiites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power - even in areas with a substantial Sunni population.
This time, more Sunnis are expected to participate, and UP.S. and Iraqi officials hope the elections will result in greater Sunni representation and provide a more accurate gauge of the popularity of political parties.
The vote, which is supposed to be held by Oct. 1, could also shift the balance of power in the Sunni provinces. Traditional Sunni parties, especially the Iraqi Islamic Party, face tough competition from the "awakening councils" made up of Sunni tribesmen who turned against al-Qaida.
Those councils have proven to be the key to bringing stability to Anbar province and Sunni areas south of Baghdad. Encouraged by their success against the terror network, some councils are now considering fielding their own candidates to compete for political power.
"We are going to enter the next elections as an independent entity. We think that our successes and deeds speak for us. We feel we can serve Anbar province like nobody else," said Rashid Jubeir, a leader of the awakening council in Ramadi.
Many Sunni Arabs complain of poor services in their areas and blame the Iraqi Islamic Party for allegedly paying little attention to their needs. They feel that the Sunni party, led by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, of putting personal and party interests first.
"The circumstances in 2005 have served the IIP, but now it has little popularity among voters," said Jubeir.
In Ramadi, where the popularity of the Sunni political parties has waned, journalist Khalid Saleh said Sunni parties offered nothing but "false promises" and little work to improve services and the economy in the city.
But Salim Abdullah, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, said his group is confident and unafraid of competition by the awakening councils.
"We haven no worries about this. We have a lot of supporters all over Iraq. We believe we have done our best to serve our people. Everybody can compete in the elections," he said.
In the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad, the awakening groups are determined to enter the election as independent entities.
"The parties in the current political process have failed to serve the people. The citizens are tired of words and we have proven that we are men of actions," said Bassem Jabar, a leader in Azamiyah awakening council.
I think it more like the sharecroppers against the land lords. I'm rooting for the Sharecroppers. Maybe then we will get a new crop of bloggers too.