Iraqi Voters May Have Cut Power to Religious Parties

February 2, 2009

Author: Brian Murphy

Source: The Associated Press

The biggest Shiite party in Iraq once appeared to hold all political sway: control of the heartland, the backing of influential clerics and a foot in the government with ambitions to take full control.

But the days of wide-open horizons soon could be ending for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, replaced by important shifts that could be welcomed in Washington and scorned in Tehran.

The signs began to take shape yesterday with hints of the voter mood from provincial elections. The broad message, built on Iraqi media projections and postelection interviews, was that the eventual results will punish religious-leaning factions such as the Supreme Council that are blamed for stoking sectarian violence, and reward secular parties seen capable of holding Iraq's relative calm.

The outcome of the provincial races will not directly affect Iraq's national policies or its balance between Washington's global power and Iran's regional muscle. But Shiite political trends are critically important in Iraq, where majority Shiites hold sway after the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime in 2003.

"There is a backlash from Iraqis against sectarian and religious politics," said Mustafa al-Ani, an Iraqi political analyst based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Although official results from Saturday's provincial elections probably are days away, the early outlines are humbling for the Supreme Council. The group had been considered a linchpin in Iraqi politics as a junior partner in the government that had nearly seamless political control in the Shiite south.