"The issue here will be the reaction of Iran and the Sunni countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia," said Emad Gad, a political analyst at Cairo's Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-financed think tank. "Iran is dealing with Iraq today as a region of Iranian influence, so Iran will refuse any Iraqi government that doesn’t deal with Iran as a big brother." Saudi Arabia would likely try to isolate a new Maliki government to counter Iranian influence, says Dr. Gad.
A new phase
Many in the region are watching the election with trepidation, and wondering what kind of regime will be left behind when US forces withdraw.
"We might be moving into a new phase where as the US takes a bow the other regional players step up their own presence, but it’s difficult to tell for now," says Peter Harling, the International Crisis Group’s project director for Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. "That’s one of the question marks for the period to come, how the US withdrawal and the vacuum that it entails will play out regionally."