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New Sunni Provincial leaders Face Daunting Tasks

They will have their work cut out sharing power, improving public services and curbing corruption.
By IWPR-trained journalists
Sunni Arab leaders who are taking power locally for the first time since 2003 will need to cooperate with rivals to overcome a dizzying array of problems, according to analysts.



Last month’s provincial council elections, encouraged by the United States, aimed to boost Sunni Arab representation in local politics, particularly in governorates with substantial Sunni Arab communities that had boycotted Iraq’s first post-Baathist provincial polls in 2005.



Sunni parties will control councils in the central and western provinces of Diyala, Anbar, Salahaddin and Nineveh. They will also have a stronger presence in mixed majority-Shia governorates such as Baghdad. Nowhere in Iraq did a single Sunni party secure enough votes to avoid a coalition with rivals.



In addition to better representing Sunni Arabs – a key constituency in Iraq - analysts believe Sunni inclusion in local decision-making will advance Iraqi reconciliation efforts following years of bloody sectarian fighting. It is also believed that Sunni political power could further weaken Sunni armed rebels.



Sunni leaders will undoubtedly be expected to address security, particularly in turbulent Sunni provinces such as Diyala and Mosul where the insurgency remains strong.



But the new provincial council members will also inherit a barrage of problems that have little to do with sect or ethnicity. Electricity, water, healthcare, corruption and reconstruction are some of the daunting tasks that leaders will need to address as the public grows impatient with poor services and government inefficiency.



According to Salim al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Sunni Iraq Accord Front, the policies of outgoing councils in provinces such as Diyala “reflected the demands of the parties in the provincial council, not the demands of the Iraqi public”.



“The security situation in the past has haemorrhaged many resources, which has weakened reconstruction,” he added.



Many Sunni coalitions in largely Sunni provinces did not reel in voters with sectarian or religious campaigning, but by promising better days through democracy and development.



Yasir Muajal, who ran with former Sunni deputy prime minister Salam al-Zawbai’s coalition, said there is hope that Sunni leaders will promote local economic development and investments, as well as “reconstruct and develop infrastructure that has been ignored and damaged over the last five years”.



If Sunnis enjoy a post-election honeymoon period, it will be short. Incumbents lost power nationwide in this year’s provincial elections and voters will expect to see results soon, analysts said.



“The Sunnis’ political enthusiasm will depend on the changes [their] province witnesses during the next few months,” said Thinnun Mahmud, a sociology professor at the University of Mosul. “If the situation improves, they will remain keen to participate in the political process.”



In the largest Sunni province, Anbar, rival Sunni coalitions will take power following a heated race marred by fraud.



Anbar will be governed by a tribal coalition led by leaders of the Awakening Council, US-backed armed Sunni groups that have helped quell extremists.



The tribal coalition will share power with secularist-leaning Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq’s list and the Iraqi Islamic Party.

The Iraqi Islamic Party had been the leading Sunni representative in Anbar and Mosul, where it was the only Sunni party that participated in the 2005 provincial elections. Sunni critics claimed the party did not perform well in office.



Hamid al-Tamimi, a professor of politics at the University of Baghdad, expressed concern about tribes gaining power in Anbar, arguing that “the tribes expect privileges”.



He said tribal leaders are likely to favour family members or allies over qualified candidates to serve in government.



The tribes, which have controlled security, are fierce rivals of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar. However, Tamimi said the tribal coalition led by the powerful sheikh, Ahmed Abu Risha, would “have a good chance of working well” with Mutlaq.



In provinces with substantial Kurdish populations such as Nineveh and Diyala, Sunnis who will run the provinces will need to negotiate with Kurdish leaders who won several seats.



The rhetoric among Sunnis and Kurds in Nineveh, which Kurds controlled over the past four years, has been especially heated and could make governing there difficult, according to Mahmud, of the University of Mosul.



“We have to stay away from [ethnic] discourse,” he said. “It has to stop as soon as the provincial council is formed, or the situation in the province will not change... No serious work will get done.”



In Salahaddin, where voter turnout was high, Sunni political lists will share power with former prime minister Ayad Allawi’s secular National Iraqi List which alleged fraud after coming in a close second to the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front.



Some believe that despite the difficult election, rivalries will subside.



“Sunni Arabs, Shias and Kurds are brothers and the people of the same homeland,” said Hatim Hithal Abbas, a 45-year-old teacher in Salahaddin. “They can work together and end up producing something positive if they have good intentions."



IWPR-trained journalists Daud Salman and Basim al-Shara contributed to this report from Baghdad. IWPR trainee journalist Suhail al-Salih reported from Salahaddin. An IWPR trainee who is not identified because of security concerns reported from Mosul.

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