On Jan. 31, Iraqis will head to the polls for the first time since 2005. If the provincial elections go off without a hitch, it'll be a positive sign that Iraq can hold it together as U.S. and coalition troops begin to depart.
Rule of thumbs: On Saturday, Jan. 31, 14 million Iraqis will be eligible to vote in elections to fill 440 seats on provincial councils. The councils are similar to state legislatures, but probably even more importantly, they engage in patronage by handing out coveted government jobs and social benefits. Elections will take place in 14 of Iraqs 18 provinces, with elections in Kirkuk province and the three semiautonomous Kurdish provinces to be held later. Above, two Iraqis stand near an election poster on Jan. 27 in Baghdad.