Monday, April 16, 2007

al-Sadr's power play

Moqtada al-Sadr is pulling six members out of Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet. As I've posted before, this bears watching.
The six cabinet members belonging to the Sadr Movement in Nuri al-Maliki's
government are set to resign
. The movement's 32 parliamentarians will continue to attend sessions of the legislature, but presumably would vote against the prime minister in a vote of no confidence. The Sadrists want the Iraqi government to insist on setting a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and are annoyed that PM al-Maliki publicly rejected that approach recently when he was in Japan.

As always, Juan Cole provides the best insight:
I now count those who would probably vote against al-Maliki if the question was
called this way: The Iraqiya List of Iyad Allawi: 25; The Fadhila Party: 15; the National Dialogue Front (secularist Sunnis): 11; Sadrists: 32. That is 83. I don't know what the Iraqi Accord Front (fundamentalist Sunnis) would do. They have 44 seats. If they voted against, that would be 127. It would take 138 to cause the government to fall, which means that if the Sunnis were disgruntled enough, and if a few (11) other Shiites defected, even al-Maliki's powerful coalition of Kurds and fundamentalist Shiites could not protect him. I think the Iraq government is gradually collapsing; likely the end state is just dysfunctionality rather than anything dramatic. There was a Lebanese parliament all through the Civil War there, it just did not do anything and couldn't meet (the parliament building lay on the Green Line along which the fighting raged).

And the media, of course, repeats "radical":
BAGHDAD - Cabinet ministers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the
government Monday, severing the powerful Shiite religious leader from the U.S.-backed prime minister and raising fears al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia might again confront American troops.

al-Sadr is a power player in Iraqi politics, and until we leave Iraq we better figure out how to deal with him.

Though in his early thirties and only a hojatalislam ("proof of Islam") - one rank below an ayatollah in the Shiite religious hierarchy - Muqtada al-Sadr has pursued a political strategy no other Iraqi politician can match.

The sources of his ever-expanding appeal are: his pedigree, his fierce nationalism, his shrewd sense of when to confront the occupying power and when to lie low, and his adherence to the hierarchical order of the Shiite sect, topped by a grand ayatollah - at present 73-year-old Ali Sistani - whose opinion or decree must be accepted by all those below him. (For his part, Sistani does not criticize any Shiite leader.)

Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and two elder brothers were
assassinated outside a mosque in Najaf in February 1999 by the henchmen of President Saddam Hussein. The Grand Ayatollah had defied Saddam by issuing a religious decree calling on Shiites to attend Friday prayers in mosques. The Iraqi dictator, paranoid about large Shiite gatherings, feared these would suddenly turn violently anti-regime.

Muqtada then went underground - just as he did recently in the face of the Bush administration's "surge" plan - resurfacing only after the Baathist regime fell in April 2003; and Saddam City, the vast slum of Baghdad, with nearly 2 million Shiite residents, was renamed Sadr City. As the surviving son of the martyred family of a grand ayatollah, Muqtada was lauded by most Shiites.

While welcoming the demise of the Baathist regime, Sadr consistently opposed the continuing occupation of his country by Anglo-American forces. When Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, banned his magazine Al Hawza al Natiqa ("The Vocal Seminary") in April 2004 and American soldiers fired on his followers protesting peacefully against the publication's closure, Sadr called for "armed resistence" to the occupiers.

No comments: