Iraq has held multiple national and local elections since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, but ethnic and sectarian violence has impeded political progress. Analysts say the latest round of voting—provincial council elections scheduled nationwide for January 31—could mark a new chapter for Iraq’s struggle with democracy. And while there have been scattered assassinations and reports of intimidation leading up to elections, most experts agree the emergence of hundreds of new parties and thousands of candidates illustrate the maturation of the Iraqi political system. Unlike polls in 2005, major Sunni parties are participating, increasing expectations that as the United States ramps up its troop drawdown plan, a stable Iraqi political scene will emerge. As Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy observes: “Although the coming elections will clearly be imperfect, it is important that they be held in order to show that the central Iraqi government is committed to democratic rule and that the provincial councils are accountable, at least to some extent, to the people.”
More than 15 million Iraqis have registered to vote for the 2009 governorate council elections—out of an estimated 17.2 million eligible voters (PDF). According to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, which is monitoring the election, over 14,400 candidates have been cleared to run (PDF) for 440 seats in fourteen provinces (excluding Kirkuk and three provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan). Roughly 4,000 of these candidates are women (NYT). Analysts say the candidate lists, made public in December 2008, suggest new faces will dominate major parties and coalitions, regardless of voting results. In Basra (PDF), two of the principle parties—Fadhila and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq—have replaced nearly all of their candidates that...