Iraq’s 20 April provincial elections are expected to provide an early indication as to whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will serve a third four-year term. Iraq’s opposition has been campaigning to unseat Mr Maliki before January 2014 parliamentary elections, but has so far failed. The provincial election is a test of strength for both camps. MEES learns from senior Iraqi opposition sources that Iran has informed them of its continued support for Mr Maliki and that Tehran does not want him to step down before the parliamentary polls.

The elections have been preceded by a series of car bombs in which scores have been killed and wounded. Several of the ‘Iraqiya Block candidates have also been assassinated during the campaign. Some 50% of eligible voters participated in the elections, down from 72% in previous elections in 2009. The drop reflects growing disillusionment with the post-2003 political process. The April 2013 elections are the first to be held following the departure of US forces in late 2011. (CONTINUED - 1167 WORDS)