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IRAQI ELECTIONS….Results from Iraq’s provincial elections are finally in. The LA Times reports:

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has won a resounding victory in provincial elections across Iraq, cashing in on his strongman image while dealing a sharp defeat to outright religious parties, according to preliminary results released Thursday.

Candidates running under Maliki’s Enforcement of Law slate won the most seats in nine of 14 contested provinces, including the Shiite Muslim power bases of Baghdad and Basra. /p>

Juan Cole offers a rather different take:

Although Nuri al-Maliki’s Da’wa Party got over a third of the votes in Baghdad and Basra, they clearly did not achieve a commanding position, and its share in the more rural Shiite provinces was signifcantly less..

The big story here is that the Shiite religious parties (and yes, the Da’wa or Islamic Mission Party is among them) again swept the Shiite south. However, those Shiite parties that won out this time want a strong central government, not a Shiite mini-state.

….On the whole, I think these results are encouraging for Obama. The Sunni Arab ex-Baathist secular elites have reentered polities in the Sunni Arab areas. These election results put paid to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and John McCain that Sunni Arab Iraqis are pro-“al-Qaeda.” Most of them would not even vote for a religious party, much less for a radical fundamentalist terrorist group. Cheney said that if the US left, al-Qaeda would take over Sunni Arab Iraq. That is highly unlikely given these election results.

I certainly wouldn’t have guessed this a year or two ago, but Maliki really does seem to have consolidated his position throughout the country, something that’s almost certainly good news for the U.S. If Obama really does want to get out of Iraq within 16 months (or 19 months or 23 months, depending on who you listen to), it’s going to be a lot easier if the Maliki administration is stable and relatively secure. And while Iraq will still have friendly relations with Iran under Maliki, that would have been the case regardless and is probably no bad thing anyway. Overall, I’d say these results make a successful withdrawal from Iraq more likely than it was a week ago.

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