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'Victim' Sadrists and Fadhila Leave Parliament

The most important political event in Iraq this week was the dramatic albeit ambiguous withdrawal of the Sadrists and the Fadhila Party from the parliamentary session, and the implications this move has for the ongoing realignment in Iraqi politics. The leadership of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) is dominated by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and SCIRI, which is headed by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. The faction of Moqtada al-Sadr has been the one Shia faction which has maintained a consistent anti-American platform, and is the most aligned with Tehran and Damascus in regional politics (SCIRI has roots in Iran but is politically focused on the rights of Shia in Iraq). The Fadhila follows the direction of the Ayatollah Muhammad Yaqubi of Najaf, and has also often taken a militant line, for example by opposing the ratification of Iraq’s constitution, even though it was supported by Iraq’s highest religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The Sadr faction and the Fadhila are smaller than Dawa and SCIRI, but they are large enough that their permanent departure might otherwise undermine the government except that Sadr’s unpopularity among the Sunnis is such that his departure from the coalition would likely strengthen their support for Maliki. Overall, SCIRI and Dawa are coming closer together under the guidance of Sistani while the Sadrists and Fadhila increasingly take an alternative position, while Maliki’s government receives more support from the Sunnis.

As reported in the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat on Tuesday (“Sadrist and Fadhila Parliamentarians Withdraw from Parliament Session”), Sadrist and Fadhila representatives claimed that they were withdrawing indefinitely due to the government’s failure to prevent violence against the Shia. Sadr representative Buha’ al-Arji specifically blamed the United States, saying that “foreign occupying troops and their illegitimate children among the Saddamists and members of al-Qaeda are trying to pull the country into a civil war.” He said that the government wasn’t weak, but only that the U.S. was preventing it from keeping order. He also complained against the prime minister, saying that complaints “have not received a proper hearing from the Maliki government.” A representative of the Fadhila is simply quoted as complaining of “the weak execution” of security duties.

One Sunni legislator, Jafir Aani, also withdrew individually, but another Sunni legislator spoke out favorably for Maliki’s reconciliation plan as the best means of fighting terrorism. More prominently, Hamid Majid Musa, head of the Sunni Iraqi Party, stated that talk about “a circle of violence being between Sunnis and Shia is not quite correct.” This appears to be a recognition of the fact that it is militants among both populations that are attacking civilians, not mainstream Sunnis and Shia. Notably, National Security Advisor Salam al-Jubei said that it was important to “fix the mistakes of the previous government,” stop “foreign attempts to divide the country, and continue to make contacts with Iraqi insurgents willing to reconcile with the government.” This was an implicit criticism of former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

Al-Hayat also reported on Thursday regarding discussions within the National Security Policy Council on efforts to face down the Shia militias and integrate them into the regular Iraqi security forces. ThreatsWatch will address the broader security issues separately, but in looking at the political implications of Sadr’s departure it is noteworthy that while the Shia emphasized the threat from the Sunni terrorists and the Sunnis emphasized the threat from the Shia militias, the Iraqi army supreme commander Babkir Jaybari stated that the sectarian violence - meaning the militias - was harder to face down than the mostly foreign terrorists “because they are not enemies to us and herein lies the problem.” The writer noted that Jaybari didn’t specify which groups it was to which he was referring, but the implication regarding the Mahdi Army and others was clear - the greatest enemy is among us, not from outside.

The true reason for this political convulsion seems to differ from the official reason given by the Sadrists in light of recent attempts by the government to crack down on Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which has been accused of many atrocities against Sunni civilians. As reported here at ThreatsWatch, U.S. and Iraqi troops have recently begun confronting the Mahdi Army, something which has caused Sadr’s representatives to accuse elements within the government of conspiring with America to marginalize Sadr. Given the Shia religious authorities intensified focus on ending the militias and Maliki’s continued insistence on the same, it is reasonable to assume that Sadr decided to widen the rift after Maliki held firm in private on commitments he has made in public to disarm Sadr’s militia. While it does not appear that this break means that Sadr is withdrawing from the political process altogether, he is clearly separating himself further from both the political and religious leaders of the Shia majority.

Separately, Al-Rafidayn reports that Shia and Sunni waqfs have decided to work together. A waqf is an endowment to support a mosque complex, usually as not only a place of prayer but also of study and charitable giving. The report indicated that the Shia authorities committed to spending five days working joined with the Sunni mosques as a sign of solidarity with them and in protest against the abduction of Sunni waqf employees recently.