This Message is Brought to You By Iraq's Campaign '09

Ahmed Chalabi just sent me a text message. "Elect slate 274 now. The future is in your hands, Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, paid advertisement," stated the little script across my phone screen. It came just a few minutes after another Arabic exhortation: "Elect 302, the slate of Prime Minister Maliki, he who achieved security and returned national sovereignty. Paid Advertisement."

With provincial elections on Saturday, the capital's blast walls, cell phones and televisions are flush with propaganda for the 2,455 candidates and hundreds of numbered slates running for the province's 57-seat council--the body that will choose a governor and make local laws.

Just driving around town gives a taste of the campaign rhetoric. It's often not too different from the platitudes of American politics except that it's more wordy. "In order to achieve justice, equality and equal opportunity, vote for Rafidein, 504." "For the construction of a new Iraq," says posters for Abbas al-Naeimi, a television anchorman stepping into politics.

There are unspoken subtexts in some. The posters for the slate headed by the mayor of Baghdad shows an apparently nondescript highway overpass and some unremarkable street scenes. But observant voters would notice them as examples of infrastructure rebuilt after terrorist bombings. On television, Ayad Allawi's coalition shows video of him speaking to the United Nations, a reminder that he was prime minister in 2004.

Though religious parties are said to be on the defensive, apparently the list backed by the powerful Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq thinks Shiite references are a plus. "Peace on you, heroine of Karbala," says one of their posters, referring to the seventh century Zeinab, sister of the revered Hussein. Their coalition is called, "The Martyrs of the Altar and Independent Forces." The "martyrs of the altar" are Imam Ali, killed while praying in 661 and cleric Mohammed Bakr Hakim, killed by a bomber after prayers in 2003.