The use of religious symbols or sites is banned in the campaign for the Jan. 31 vote, but everyone from the Communist Party to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a powerful Shiite party, has resorted to Shiite imagery. One Supreme Council banner in Baghdad declared that a person should vote for its list of candidates because he is the "son of the marjaiya," a reference to the authority of Sistani and his most senior colleagues.
"People understand who's closer to the marjaiya and they can distinguish between parties on that basis," said Abdul Hussein Abtan, a Supreme Council candidate and deputy governor of Najaf, a sacred city in Shiite Islam and the home of Sistani.
The contest is especially fierce in southern Iraq, pitting the Supreme Council, a once-clandestine group established in Iran in 1982, against the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Supreme Council controls four of nine southern provinces, but Dawa hopes to capitalize on Maliki's popularity as a man trying to instill order in the country.
The above is from Anthony Shadid's "Iraq's Top Shiite Cleric Urges Participation in Upcoming Vote" (Washington Post)and the cleric is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani while the urging comes as turnout is expected to higher than in the recent past. Timothy Williams (NYT's International Herald Tribune) observes:
In the public opinion poll of 4,570 Iraqis conducted by the government-funded National Media Center, 41 percent of respondents said they preferred secular candidates, while 31 percent said they would support candidates supported by religious parties.
Note, an embarrassingly edited version of Williams report appears in today's New York Times. Sam Dagher has a lengthy article in the Times that may be missed because it is so very rare for the paper to put Iraq on the front page these days. "Tribal Rivalries Persist as Iraqis Seek Local Posts" also focuses on the upcoming elections -- Jan. 31st scheduled in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces -- and zooms in on Anbar:
There are more than 500 candidates divided into 37 political groups -- a robust choice given the boycott of four years ago. Sheiks making earnest campaign promises proudly display photographs of themselves posing with other politicians. One tribal leader managed pictures with both President Bush and Barack Obama.
But Anbar, poor and lawless even under Mr. Hussein, is different from many other parts of Iraq. It is overwhelmingly Sunni, so the fights are not ethnic or sectarian but between competing tribes. When the Americans began paying former insurgents and tribal leaders to help enforce security, they favored some tribes over others, in many cases displacing the old for upstarts.
That fostered a general peace layered over an angry tribal instability that many fear could turn lethal, in the elections or after.
"We are not suited for democracy," said Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, the chief of the provincial police force, who worries that the tribes are seeking political power not to administer the security forces, but to co-opt them as quasi tribal militias.
Broadly, the Awakening is seeking to transform its credentials as peacemakers into political power, a force for the minority Sunnis against the dominance of the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and the Shiite parties. Here in Anbar, the new political forces are meant to challenge the Iraqi Islamic Party, which became the main Sunni party after the elections in 2005, but is often accused of corrupt and autocratic rule.
AP's Kim Gamel and Hamza Hendawi explain that the elections are for 444 seats (444 from all 14 pvoinces) and that 14,431 people are competing for those seats. Shamal Aqrawi (Reuters) reports on the tensions between the Kurds and al-Maliki:
The head of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region spoke out on Monday against tribal councils backed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a sign of worsening tensions between the Kurds and the central government.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani threatened to treat any tribal leaders who join such councils in the three Iraqi Kurdish provinces as "traitors", and warned that Arabs joining such councils in other neighbouring provinces could trigger war.
Maliki, a Shi'ite Arab who has presided over a recent sharp drop in violence, has made high profile bids to set up tribal "support councils" throughout Iraq, which his political rivals say undermine the elected institutions of the state.
In the US?
Yes, the coronation takes place today and that's Isaiah's "Sunset Campaign" from last May.
Megan notes Robert Fisk's "So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn't it time for a war crimes tribunal?" (Independent of London via Information Clearing House):
It's a wrap, a doddle, an Israeli ceasefire just in time for Barack Obama to have a squeaky-clean inauguration with all the world looking at the streets of Washington rather than the rubble of Gaza. Condi and Ms Livni thought their new arms-monitoring agreement -- reached without a single Arab being involved -- would work. Ban Ki-moon welcomed the unilateral truce. The great and the good gathered for a Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Only Hamas itself was not consulted. Which led, of course, to a few wrinkles in the plan. First, before declaring its own ceasefire, Hamas fired off more rockets at Israel, proving that Israel's primary war aim -- to stop the missiles -- had failed. Then Cairo shrugged off the deal because no one was going to set up electronic surveillance equipment on Egyptian soil. And not one European leader travelling to the region suggested the survivors might be helped if Israel, the EU and the US ended the food and fuel siege of Gaza.
After killing hundreds of women and children, Israel was the good guy again, by declaring a unilateral ceasefire that Hamas was certain to break. But Obama will be smiling on Tuesday. Was not this the reason, after all, why Israel suddenly wanted a truce?
A friend asks that I note "A vigilant press," a Los Angeles Times editorial (a friend with the LAT asks that I note that editorial):
The Constitution, which Obama today will swear to "preserve, protect and defend," includes only one profession under its guarantees of protection: a free press. It does so not to protect journalists, but in defense of the American people and their right to know their government. As President Obama sets forth in his historic administration, as Americans and people around the world invest their optimism and hope in his success, we pledge to watch him, to hold him to his work, and to report back.
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