Sunday, March 11, 2007

Perspective: Lopsided provincial councils keep Iraq off balance

Shiite women line up to vote in the Sadr City district of Baghdad in 2005

BAGHDAD — The long delay in holding provincial elections in Iraq has shut out Sunni Arab majorities and exacerbated sectarian tensions in provincial capitals such as Kirkuk and Baqubah and in mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad. A Sunni boycott of elections in 2005 has left the religious sect underrepresented in some provincial councils and has allowed Shiite politicians to dominate.

The stark political imbalance is a key driver of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in some of Iraq's most strategically important and heterogeneous cities, Iraqi politicians and U.S. officials say.

Plans to draft legislation to hold new local balloting have been put off indefinitely by the Shiite-dominated parliament, intensifying tensions with Sunni Arabs who have been pushing for new elections.

Sunni Arabs constitute at least 40% of Baghdad's population, but only one of the 51 members of the local provincial council is Sunni.

Read the rest at the LA Times