News Analysis: Democracy in Action

Iraq Primary Heats Up
Candidates Seek to Destroy Each Other’s Credibility, Each Other
A recent debate in Iraq’s increasingly acrimonious primary election. 
Richieville News Service – BAGHDAD
The Iraq primary election campaign, which had seemed to moderate in recent days, returned to its previous level of rancor over the weekend, with rival candidates and their supporters throwing accusations at each other along with mortar fire and armor-piercing bullets. Both sides blamed the other for the increasingly negative tone of the contest, which will decide the winner of provincial elections to be held October 1. 
The elections, which will decide control of local governments and with them, control of oil revenues, are being contested by over 25 parties, known locally as “militias.” The ongoing primary process is to determine which of two groups, the Badr Organization or the Mahdi Army will represent the country’s majority Shia population in the general election. Both are grass-roots networks of enthusiastic college-age volunteers. The Badr Organization, linked to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, backs Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Mahdi Army has coalesced around the maverick politician Muqtada al-Sadr. In recent weeks, Mr. al-Maliki has launched an aggressive campaign to cut into Mr. al-Sadr’s support, chiefly by killing his supporters.   
Despite recent reversals in Basra, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose party controls 30 of the 275 seats in parliament,  rejected calls that he quit the race, vowing to throw the “kitchen sink,” at his rival, Mr. al-Maliki. The so-called “kitchen sink” strategy, seen as a desperation measure, is known locally as an “open war of liberation.” He also complained of the “filthy military and media campaign,” being waged against him. Mr. al-Sadr’s remarks, in a conference call with major donors, were simultaneously broadcast over loudspeakers  to the 2.5 million residents of the vast Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad.
Mr. al-Maliki retaliated quickly, calling Mr. al-Sadr a “whiner.” He also suggested that he was doing the radical cleric a favor by subjecting him to the same kind of attacks he would face in a general election. “If he can’t take the heat,” he said at a campaign rally, in which he was personally directing the assault on Mahdi Army positions in Sadr City,  “he should get out of the range of my rocket-propelled grenades.”
Although the United States has not made an official endorsement of either candidate, it has offered Mr. al-Maliki help with the loan of campaign workers from the 82nd Airborne Division But it seems the contest will ultimately be decided by superdelegates, known locally as “Iran.

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