Diyala's Provincial Election
The results of the upcoming provincial elections are critical to the Sunnis of Diyala Province. Diyala Province is home to every major sect and ethnicity of Iraq. However, because of the Sunni boycott of the elections of 2005, the make up of the Provincial Government is not representative of the population of the province. This discrepancy has been the source of unrest in recent years.
The first important steps toward Sunni political organization in Diyala came in February 2007 at the time of the Coalition Forces’ push against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Diyala Province. The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) offered assistance in organizing the Coalition Forces’ efforts to raise grassroots Sunni security forces, which was modeled on the success of the Anbar Awakening. The creation of these so-called Popular Committees, charged with providing neighborhood security, enhanced the IIP’s popularity and increased its constituency within Diayala.
The Popular Committees grew in power as they successfully defeated AQI and they turned their attention from security to politics. This shift, and their growing strength, drew attention throughout Iraq. Shia and Kurdish power blocs saw the organization of the Sunnis into legitimized security forces in Diyala as a threat to their strategic interests within a critical province. In response to the IIPs growing power, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki created the Diyala Support Council (DSC) in mid-2007 in an attempt to influence Diyala from Baghdad. Further, Maliki employed the ISF to reduce the strength of Sunni power bloc in Diyala by arresting hundreds of Sunni fighters and ejecting Popular Committee leaders from their offices. Lastly, in February of 2008, Prime Minister Maliki won the approval of the Government of Iraq to form Tribal Support Councils (TSC) throughout Iraq. The Diyala TSCs allowed Maliki to check growing Sunni influence within the province and play one Sunni group off another, effectively preventing the Sunnis from creating a single, consolidated political bloc.
In theory, the IIP stands to fare well in the upcoming elections because the recently passed elections law gives the IIP a distinct advantage over other Sunni parties. The elections law favors well-funded and well-recognized parties, and the IIP has access to money and had name recognition by virtue of its involvement in Diyala’s grassroots Sunni security forces. In reality, however, the IIP is competing against well-funded, more experienced Kurdish and Shia political parties. Though the Sunnis as a whole are expected to get a higher return of seats than they had in the past, it is likely that much of the Sunni constituency of Diyala Province will be disappointed by the outcome of these elections.