The polls have closed in Iraq and with only a smattering of candidate assassinations, voter intimidation and ballot-buying, everything seems to have gone remarkably well.
Now the wait begins. The results of Iraq's provincial elections may be a harbinger of what lies in store for that country over the next few years. Only Arab provinces, 14 of the 18 in total, will vote. Three Kurdish provinces will vote separately and the final district, Kirkuk, won't be voting at all. Kirkuk is the OK Corral of Iraq, the place where the Arab/Kurd showdown awaits. Baghdad doesn't want to light that fuze anytime soon even as the Kurds keep pushing Arabs out and Kurds in to make sure the referendum comes out their way.
The vote will test the relative strength of Maliki and Muqtada al Sadr; of the Shiite and the minority Sunni Arab factions. The provincial elections may also indicate what the future holds for Maliki in Iraq's national elections later this year. That's when Maliki could be challenged by his country's largest Shia party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
The real threat to the survival of Iraq as a nation remains in the Kurdish north. If the Kurds secede, observers see Iraq splitting into three states; the Kurdish north, the Shiite south and the Sunni centre. There are some who think that outcome is literally pre-ordained by the Kurdish constitution which, to prevent civil war, the Baghdad government incorporated into the Iraqi constitution.
The Fat Lady sits patiently in Kirkuk, waiting to sing.