Governorate or provincial elections are scheduled to be held in Iraq sometime prior to the end of January 2009, to replace the local councils in fourteen of the eighteen governorates of Iraq that were elected in the Iraqi governorate elections of 2005.
In February 2008, the Iraqi Parliament passed a Provincial Powers Act by a majority of one, with many members of parliament not present at the proceedings. It included giving the Prime Minister the power to dismiss a governor of a province, a measure that would have left considerable power in the hands of the Shi'a dominated central government in Baghdad. The Act required a Provincial Elections Law to be passed within the next 90 days and for elections to be held no later than the beginning of October 2008.
The Presidency Council initially referred the law back, saying it did not comply with the constitutional rights of governorates. It was reported that vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, whose Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party is strong in many southern Iraqi governorate councils, particularly objected. However, the Council reversed its position following protests from the Sadrist Movement, saying they would instead seek changes to the law before it came into force.
The Provincial Elections bill was approved by the Council of Representatives on 22 July 2008 despite a walkout by members of the Kurdistani Alliance over a clause making Kirkuk Governorate council a power-sharing arrangement. The next day the Presidency Council of Iraq, consisting of President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite Arab, and Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, unanimously agreed to reject the bill because of the Kirkuk clause, and send it back to the Council of Representatives to reconsider.
Following this, Maliki said he would disqualify any parties from the election who refused to disband their militia. In April the cabinet agreed on a draft elections law, which included a clause banning parties with militias.
Under Article 50 of the draft Elections law, religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis would be reserved a number of seats in the provincial assemblies. This clause was removed in the final draft, with legislators citing a lack of census data for determining the appropriate number of seats. Five thousand Christians demonstrated in Mosul against this change, saying it was a "marginalisation of their rights" and the head of the Assyrian Church of the East wrote to the Presidency Council asking them to veto the law.
Prime Minister al-Maliki said he was concerned and called on parliament and the Iraqi High Electoral Commission to "remove all the concerns, injustice and the sense of exclusion felt by some segments of Iraqi society" . Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman called on the Presidency Council of Iraq to use its review process to force an amendment to include a minority quota, saying "The rule of the majority means there should be protection of the minorities" A Sadrist leader also said Christians should be allowed to "contribute to the building of the Iraqi state" and the removal of this clause "threatened the unity of Iraq
The UN Special Envoy also criticised the removal of the minorities clause.
The original draft proposed delaying the election in Kirkuk Governorate until after the referendum to decide its precise status has been held. However, a group of Turkmen and Arab MPs proposed a power-sharing clause, establishing a provincial council consisting of ten Kurds, ten Arabs, ten Turkmens and two Assyrians. This clause was included in the draft election bill put to the Iraqi Council of Representatives in July 2008, and led to the Kurdish parties walking out in protest, complaining "If you already pick the seats before the election, why vote?" The law was nonetheless approved on 22 July 2008. However, President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, and Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite Arab, have agreed they would reject the bill, and hence it would be sent back to the Council of Representatives to reconsider.
Parliamentary summer recess started on 30 July 2008, but a special session was called for 3 August 2008 to find a solution to the Kirkuk issue. At that meeting, no solution was reached; at another meeting on 4 August 2008, lawmakers postponed the session to 5 August 2008, and on that date to 6 August 2008. It was then postponed to 9 September 2008, with a committee working on a compromise solution until then. At that session, no resolution was reached, and negotiations continued on 10 September 2008 in the form of a special six-member panel formed for this occasion. The law was finally passed on 24 September 2008 and the election is expected to be held by 31 January 2009; the compromise was that Kirkuk would be dealt with separately, and elections in Kirkuk and the three Kurdish autonomous provinces will be held at a later time. A special panel was to work on a solution on Kirkuk and report back by 31 March 2009.
The United Nations Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura proposed holding elections in all governorates except Kirkuk, and deferring the Kirkuk elections for six months in order to find an acceptable compromise. A draft bill based on this proposal was debated on 6 August and accepted by the Kurdistani Alliance but opposed by the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Iraqi Accord Front and Sadrist Movement who objected to the draft law's reference to the Kirkuk status referendum and insisted on delaying the entire elections until a solution was found.
The previous Governorate and national elections in Iraq have been held under a "Closed list" electoral system, whereby voters select a party or coalition and the party or coalition selects the individual parliamentarian.
The new election will be held under an "Open list" system, whereby voters may select either a party or an individual candidate; the candidates elected from a list will be those that get the most individual votes from among that list.
The system also promotes the representation of women as if the top two people elected from a list are men the subsequent person elected will be the woman with the most votes.
In July 2008 the Iraqi Election Commission proposed postponing the elections until December because delays in passing the election law has left too little time to prepare.
The current Governorate councils were elected in the Iraqi Governorate elections of 2005, which were boycotted by Sunni Arabs, resulting in several Sunni Arab-majority provinces such as Ninawa Governorate and Salahudin being run by Kurdish and Shi'ite parties. As Sunni Arab parties have since decided to participate in elections, these elections are expected to give them more representation.
The elections are also expected to develop electoral competition within the Sunni Arab population between the Iraqi Accord Front and the Awakening movements, and within the Shiite population between the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Sadrist Movement. One senior government official said the elections would "redraw the political map of Iraq", Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi described them as a "major rehearsal for the parliamentary elections" due in 2009-10, and an expert from the International Crisis Group predicted a "big shift", with the existing parties established by exiles losing ground to more recently formed parties of people who stayed in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
A leading member of the Awakening movement in Baghdad, Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, formed the Iraqi Dignity Front to contest the elections. The Awakening movement in Anbar has formed the National Front for the Salvation of Iraq. These parties are expected to sweep the Sunni Arab vote in Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Baghdad.