Pro-Iran party loses big in Iraq local elections, returns show

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's political party won a resounding victory in Iraq's provincial elections last Saturday, according to preliminary results announced Thursday.

The results also showed that what had been Iraq's dominant political party, the Supreme Council of Iraq — which is closely allied with Iran, where it was founded — suffered an enormous defeat.

The Supreme Council's loss was most apparent in Baghdad, where Maliki's State of Law coalition won 38 percent of the votes and the Supreme Council of Iraq took only 5.4 percent.

"They lost because they were about to create a ministate from the nine (predominantly Shiite Muslim) provinces in southern Iraq. Even the Shiites dislike this idea," said Sami Askari, a Shiite legislator who's close to Maliki. "They have close ties to the Iranians, and most Iraqis don't like the Iranians."

Maliki's coalition, which appears to have dominated the results in nine of the 14 provinces that held elections, bolsters the prime minister, whose popularity rose over the past year after his military clampdown on Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Baghdad. Maliki, a Shiite, recast himself as a national leader and promised to build a strong central government.

The preliminary results were released Thursday evening at a news conference in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified 5.6-square-mile area in the heart of Baghdad.

The provincial contest Saturday was a crowded race of more than 14,000 candidates vying for some 440 seats. Many of the office seekers pledged to help rebuild Iraq as it struggles to get on its feet after the U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. The occupation that followed sparked years of bloody clashes between sects, insurgents and coalition forces.

The provincial councils are responsible for controlling local security forces, naming governors and influencing local appointments of ministry officials. Their power is limited; the parliament in Baghdad can depose leaders, and money is allocated from the central budget.

Final election results won't be released for at least another two weeks.

(Daniel reports for The Miami Herald.)


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