MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
BRAND: Millions of Iraqis are going to the polls this week to vote in provincial elections. Just think back to 2005, the last time elections like this took place.
COHEN: Iraq was mired in a sectarian war with daily suicide bombings. There were kidnappings, targeted assassinations. Iraqis had little confidence in their own government. Now, four years later, life there has changed a great deal.
BRAND: Tina Sussman of the Los Angeles Times is here. She's in Baghdad. And Tina, first, tell us what is the significance of these elections? Why should we care about them?
Ms. TINA SUSSMAN (Baghdad Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): The significance of these elections is that they are aimed at undoing the kind of lopsided political equation that resulted from the last provincial elections in 2005. What happened in those elections was that most Sunni politicians and Sunni political parties boycotted the vote.
And so, you ended up with provinces across the country that are dominated by Kurds and Shiites, even those provinces such as Nineveh in the north that have a very sizeable Sunni population. So the idea with these elections is that with everybody taking part this time, nobody boycotting. The results should be a little more fair, and hopefully, the thinking goes, that will help prevent any surges in ethnic or sectarian violence in the future.
BRAND: So it could also radically shift to the balance of power, which has been strongly Shiite since the war.
Ms. SUSSMAN: Yeah.
BRAND: And I'm wondering, is this - does this pose a major challenge to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki?
Ms. SUSSMAN: This is a big challenge for Prime Minister Al-Maliki, you know, especially in the southern parts of the country, the Shiite dominated areas. Maliki's Dawa Party is really facing stiff competition. And Maliki is actually banking on public support that he seems to have been enjoying since March, when he launched a major military crackdown on Shiite militias in some southern areas, specifically the southern city of Basra. He's really hoping that the goodwill that seems to have evolved from that crackdown is going to play out in these elections so that his party and his candidate can control Basra and most southern areas, in addition, of course, to Baghdad.
The reason this is so important to him is that there are national elections coming up later this year. And those, of course, will define whether Prime Minister Maliki essentially remains prime minister.
BRAND: So there are some 14,500 candidates, and I saw one of your blog postings at the Los Angeles Times Web site where you had photos of a lot of the campaign posters. And really, it seems like campaign fever has really taken hold of the country.
Ms: SUSSMAN: It has. Just every lamp post, every wall, you know, even these glass walls that everybody's been complaining so much about for the last few years that the U.S. military erected to, you know, improve security. Well, suddenly these glass walls has just become a greatest thing for any candidate because they're covered with posters. And the other place you see the fever setting in is text messaging here on cell phones. It's very popular.
And all of us have begun getting regular text messages from various party slates and candidates advising us to vote for them. So I just got three just in the last few hours. And in addition, you've got the voter frenzy. There's nearly 16 million Iraqis who have registered to vote in this election.
BRAND: So obviously, they're taking this very seriously and see this as a very important set of elections. When will we know the results?
Ms. SUSSMAN: We will supposedly have provisional results about 72 hours after the polls close, which is 5 P.M. Saturday, Baghdad time. However, the final, final results - that's the way the U.N. puts it - are probably not going to come until the end of February, and that's because there will be some complaints, maybe fraud allegations, maybe intimidation claims. There'll probably be some recounting that will be necessary. They're saying that probably won't be until the end of February.
BRAND: Tina Sussman is Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Tina, thank you.
Ms. SUSSMAN: Thank you very much.
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