Landslide Win for Iraq's Maliki in Elections

Maliki's party performed very well in provincial elections, particularly in Baghdad and Basra.

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By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc has won a landslide victory in elections in Iraq's two largest cities, Baghdad and Basra, in countrywide provincial elections. The Dubai-based satellite TV station Al Arabiya reports:

Maliki's win is likely to give him a major boost ahead of a parliamentary election at the end of the year.

The election for regional councils that name powerful governors in 14 of 18 provinces was Iraq's first vote since 2005 and the most peaceful in the war-battered country since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The strong showing by Maliki's State of Law coalition is seen as a vote for stability and moderation and a setback for Shiite Islamist parties, reports Iraq Updates, a compilation of national news media:

Big wins for Maliki's followers could mark a major shift in Iraqi politics away from religious identity, pulling the rug out from under the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite group.

"Will ISCI accept this, or will they resort to sabotage, to armed conflict, or other things?" Ghassan al-Atiyyah of the Iraq Foundation for Democracy and Development said.

What's behind Ahmadinejad's smirk?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defiance in the face of the Obama administration's diplomatic entreaties isn't hollow posturing; it reflects his satisfaction at America's troubles and his own rising power to influence events in the Middle East, writes commentator Ghassan Charbel in the Lebanese newspaper Dar Al Hayat:

Ahmadinejad looks at the region and the world and has an exaggerated feeling of extreme relief. The United States is caught in an international financial crisis whose resolution requires painful decisions. The Obama administration is hoping to speed up withdrawal from Iraq. It needs to dispatch some of these troops to Afghanistan, where two of Iran's enemies, America and Taliban, are fighting.

He smiles. Iran has a direct impact on Iraqi stability. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, too, is aware that [Iranian-backed] Hezbollah is the "difficult element" in the Lebanese equation. For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot ignore Iran when he calls for a Palestinian national reconciliation or a long-term truce with Israel.

Perhaps the message [to the U.S.] shows that Iran can no longer content itself with guarantees of its regime's safety. It will not accept to be one of the main players determining the safety, interests, and stability of the region. Iran seeks to be the great player in the region.

Optimism in Cairo for Hamas-Israel cease-fire

Egyptian mediators who have been trying to work out a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel following the three-week war in Gaza expect a deal to be reached, possibly by Saturday. Hamas representatives in Cairo agree. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera reports:

Mohammed Nasr, a member of the Hamas delegation that travelled to Cairo, told Al Jazeera that some of the proposals discussed were "ambiguous".

"Our brothers in Egypt, they need some time to contact the other side [Israel] in order to get clarifications and answers to our questions and issues raised by the [Hamas] movement," he said.

Salah al-Bardawil, another member the Hamas negotiating team, told Al Jazeera that while there are still several unresolved issues, he was confident that a deal would be reached within days.