Election Day is over and now comes the hard part: getting all of Iraq's disparate groups to settle on a new sovereign government that, one hopes, will not drain the treasury through corruption, allow death squads to operate in state-owned vehicles, turn the country into a battlefield for proxy wars, or lapse into the authoritarianism and inefficiency of most other Arab states. If the incoming administration could improve the dismal basic services even a little bit, Iraqis would be grateful for that, too.
Here's just a handful of things to watch as results come in (they're expected tomorrow) and the tense business of bargaining and coalition-building begins, as no one group or bloc is expected to win an outright majority:
-- IRAN: Early results and projections from various polling/monitoring groups show that the mostly Shiite Muslim alliance made up of parties backed by Iran didn't do that well, even in the majority-Shiite south. However, that doesn't mean we can say for certain that just because Iraqis strayed from the religious parties, Iran lost. If Iran doesn't have a place at the table in the formation of the next government, Tehran could set conditions for a very uncomfortable exit for U.S. forces, who are scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year. Possible scenario: reactivate "special groups" cells or ramp up militia activity; remnants of both the Mahdi Army and Badr Organization fall under this bloc's umbrella.
-- GORAN: The upstart Kurdish reformist movement, whose name is the Kurdish word for "change," is viewed as a serious threat to the balance of power up north, where the two traditional parties known by their acronyms, KDP and PUK, are keeping a close eye on the splinter group. More on Goran here.
-- PRESIDENT: Will the Kurds keep the presidency? Or will Sunni Arabs stake a claim? This is a biggie as long as the presidential office retains veto power, but it looks as if that's going to be gone this time around (I've been told there's no constitutional guarantee of the veto). Still, it's an important ceremonial position that comes with a lot of the trappings of power, if not actual influence.
-- PRIME MINISTER: Many Iraqis are taking a devil-you-know attitude toward the incumbent Nouri al Maliki, supporting him not because they're thrilled at his decidedly mixed track record on security, corruption, sovereignty and services, but because the other contenders could be so much worse. One name that's cropping up: Bakr al Zubeidi. Doesn't ring a bell? He's the current finance minister, who went by Bayan Jabr when he was the interim interior minister and was dubbed "minister of civil war" for what's described as either complicity or criminal negligence relating to the days when death squads terrorized Iraq using ministry-issued guns, vehicles, and handcuffs. Funny thing is, the killings stopped as soon as Jabr left the post.
-- BIG SIX MINISTRIES: interior, defense, finance, justice, foreign affairs, oil. These are the cornerstone of the government and there will be long, drawn-out battles for each post. Sunnis in particular are hoping for more Cabinet positions this time around, after they boycotted the last parliamentary polls in 2005 and found themselves sidelined and virtually powerless.