Yesterday the Iraqi government bundled together three different laws and passed them as a package by consensus rather than by voice vote. The three laws are the annual budget, an amnesty for (mostly) Sunni Arab prisoners, and a law setting a date for provincial elections. Juan Cole comments on the electoral realities behind all this:
The setting of a date for provincial elections is extremely important. I have argued that elections in the Sunni Arab-dominated provinces are a necessity for calming Iraq. Diyala, for instance, is 60% Sunni Arab but is ruled by the pro-Iranian Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq....It will be easier for the US to turn over security duties to elected provincial authorities who have the backing of significant numbers of Sunni Arabs, and so the elections could pave the way to a US drawdown in those provinces.
One reason that the provincial elections have been delayed is that there are fears in Baghdad that the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr will sweep to power in the Shiite south. It from all accounts has gained in popularity as the current dominant provincial party there, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has become much less popular. (ISCI has been trying to run many of the southern Shiite provinces, but has not been able to provide security and services at the level desired by local people). Presumably one reason for bundling the law of the provinces with the amnesty law was to make Sadrist MPs vote for the package. They did not want to grant amnesty to Sunni Arab prisoners, but only by supporting this step could they get a date certain for provincial elections, which they think they will largely win.
The elections are set for October 1st. If the Sadrists win, will ISCI cede power to them in the south? Or will they figure out a way to keep the Sadrists from winning in the first place? Stay tuned.