Secular, Religious Blocs Jockey For Position In Iraq In upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition faces stiff competition from an alliance of Shiite religious parties with backing from Iran. Some Iraqis are starting to view the election as a referendum on how secular Iraq's next government will be.
NPR logo

Secular, Religious Blocs Jockey For Position In Iraq

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113589992/113604893" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Secular, Religious Blocs Jockey For Position In Iraq

Secular, Religious Blocs Jockey For Position In Iraq

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113589992/113604893" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And there's a joke in Baghdad, that every time a new nightclub opens, Maliki gets another vote - which is where NPR's Quil Lawrence begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

QUIL LAWRENCE: Clubs like this one are thriving, and it's a safe bet that all of the customers here will vote for Prime Minister Maliki, says the club's owner, Majid al- Numani.

MAJID AL: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: An entirely different demographic is out at the mosque the next morning for the Friday sermon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING AND CHANTING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LAWRENCE: At the Buratha mosque in a hardcore Shiite neighborhood, Jalaladeen al-Sagheer tells the flock that he will be starting sermons early from now until the election in January, because there is so much to talk about.

JALALADEEN AL: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Al-Sagheer is considered a hard-liner in the Shiite religious coalition that is challenging Maliki's claim to Iraq's Shiite majority.

AL: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: But the political lines here defy simplification. The Shiite coalition includes plenty of moderates, but there's also the anti-American followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. And Maliki's own party, Dawa, began as a militant Islamist group.

AL: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LAWRENCE: In a crowded reception hall last week within Baghdad's Green Zone, Maliki announced the names on his electoral slate, including a smattering of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and secular politicians. A close adviser to the prime minister, Sadiq al-Rikabi, said afterward that Maliki will get the most votes because he's delivered results for Iraq.

SADIQ AL: Mr. Maliki worked hard in this current year and he is working for the future to cross the sectarian border. Mr. Maliki said, maybe one, two years ago, no return back to the sectarian block and to the sectarian tension; and he said and he did.

LAWRENCE: Parliamentary calculus has become a national pastime. Either the Shiite coalition or Mr. Maliki's bloc will almost certainly need some help to form a government after January's elections. Rumors of secret meetings or schisms inside the Sunni or Kurdish blocs hit the newspapers daily, usually to be debunked hours later on the evening news. The Shiite coalition and Mr. Maliki are both courting the nonaligned parties, says Ibrahim Sumaydi, an independent politician.

IBRAHIM SUMAYDI: At the same time, Mr. Maliki knows that his sectarian rivals, they also have voters from the Shiite religious and the radicals in the streets and their bases. Both of these lists have to talk to two levels of people.

LAWRENCE: In fact, the two sides may still come together and form a near- invincible alliance. So far, the Shiite coalition appears unwilling to accept Maliki's demand that he be prime minister for a second term if they do come together. But Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's deputy prime minister and a high-ranking member of the Shiite coalition, says the door is still open.

ADEL ABDUL MAHDI: Now the programs announced by both are not far from each other. They both look for nationalistic aspirations and programs, although they defend and they will count freely on their constituency.

LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.