On March 7, millions of Iraqis "made their mark" and participated in the country's second, generally fair and democratic post-Saddam Hussein parliamentary elections -- an event that is exemplary for Iraq's Arab and Iranian neighbors. Among the good news was that election coalitions this time around were far more ethnically and confessionally mixed than they were during the 2005 polls.
The question is whether and how Iraq's fragile, young democracy and national unity can take hold and grow strong enough to resist internal pressure and external interference.
In addition to the Ba'athist and Al-Qaeda insurgencies that continue attempts to derail the democratic process, Iran's increasing influence among many Iraqi factions threatens ultimately to disrupt the further development of representative and moderate governance.
It will take time until all votes are counted and more time until a new government is in place. But it is widely expected that Iraq's two strongest election alliances, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law and Ammar al-Hakim's Iraqi National Alliance (INA), will probably receive the biggest shares of the vote. These alliances are Iran-friendly or pro-Iranian, respectively.
Whether the two alliances form a coalition together (the less probable option) or partner with one of the other two major alliances, the Kurds and the secularist, Sunni-led Al-Iraqiyah bloc, neighboring Iran will continue to enjoy considerable influence in Iraq and be in a position to increase its influence further after the U.S. troop withdrawal is completed at the end of next year.
Iran's Rising Influence
Maliki's alliance comprises dozens of political parties and popular figures, including his own Shi'ite Al-Dawah party, as well as Sunnis, Kurds, and Turkomans. During his premiership, Maliki maintained good relations with Tehran and Iranian leaders, notably Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the run-up to the elections, Tehran repeatedly attempted to convince Maliki to join the INA and form a broad, primarily Shi'ite alliance.
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