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Daily Column
Iraqi Papers Monday: Trouble in Basra
Sadrists Finally Abandon the Government!
By AMER MOHSEN 04/15/2007 8:36 PM ET
Az-Zaman- the front-page photo shows an Iraqi Kurd mourning his family, which perished during the Anfal campaign in the 1980s. The victims of Saddam's Anfal campaign are commemorated every 14th of April in Iraq.
Az-Zaman- the front-page photo shows an Iraqi Kurd mourning his family, which perished during the "Anfal" campaign in the 1980s. The victims of Saddam's "Anfal" campaign are commemorated every 14th of April in Iraq.
Basra will be facing a tense day on Monday, according to Iraqi and Arab newspapers. An organization calling itself “the people of Basra” has rallied for a massive demonstration aiming to replace the governor.

The governor, who belongs to the Fadhila party, has warned that the demonstration’s real intent is to “ravage the governorate building, liquidate him and take control of the (city’s) banks.” According to Pan-Arab al-Hayat.

The organization that called for the demonstration is believed to be a front for the Sadrist Current and other parties of the Shi'a coalition, from which al-Fadhila withdrew last March.

According to Az-Zaman, Basra is the main bastion of the Fadhila party, whose members have a plurality in Basra’s regional council. Clashes between Sadrists and Fadhila militants occurred last month, following the withdrawal of Fadhila from the Shi'a coalition. Members of the party consider Monday’s demonstration to be another plot for the take-over of the city.

What makes matters more complex, reported al-Mada, is that the security situation in Iraq’s second-largest city is extremely volatile; and the government's security forces have little clout in the city’s streets. The ex-governor of Basra, Wa’il 'abd al-Lateef told al-Mada that “the central government is completely absent from Basra, and armed groups have an intense presence.”

The statement that announced the demonstration, a copy of which was received by Az-Zaman, contained less-than-veiled threats against the governor. The statement (which was signed by some tribal leaders as well) requested that the governor “withdraw from power peacefully, or else, other measures will be taken.”

Fadhila deputies warned against an explosion in Basra in the last Parliament session. Az-Zaman quoted a Fadhila parliamentarian, Husain al-Shammari, who said that his party received “intelligence reports” from the government warning that a plot is in place to “liquidate the governor and his family” during the ensuing riot.

Al-Mada, however, claimed that “all the parties” involved have agreed to cancel the Monday demonstration, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s office. No other papers have confirmed this claim.

The other big event today was the withdrawal of the Sadrist bloc from the government, which will no doubt have grave implications on the political process in Iraq. The withdrawal of the Sadrist bloc was reported as a possibility in the Sunday issue of al-Hayat, which quoted a Sadrist deputy as saying that “the withdrawal (plan) has entered its final stages, and is currently discussed within the decision-making circles, represented by Muqada al-Sadr, the political bureau and the Sadrist bloc.” The deputy added that the withdrawal decision was postponed due to the bombing in the parliament last week.

The news was finally confirmed by Az-Zaman and later on Sunday, with Sadrist leaders affirming that the official withdrawal will be pronounced on Monday.

The withdrawal of the six Sadrist ministers, a major pillar of the ruling Shi'a coalition, does not amount to an attempt to topple the government; as Sadrists have indicated that they will not be withdrawing from the parliament and will remain in the Shi'a bloc, hence preserving al-Maliki’s majority in the Assembly.

But the Sadrist withdrawal from the government could be a prelude for a more radical posture towards the “political process” as a whole. Especially as several top Sadrist leaders had expressed the possibility of abandoning the “political process” after al-Maliki announced his opposition to an American withdrawal plan from Iraq.

On the other hand, the Sadrists could also be seizing the moment of weakness of Maliki’s government to extract concessions; as Maliki’s majority in the parliament is as precarious as ever, with withdrawals from his bloc and counter-projects that aim to topple his majority (with Iyad 'allawi being the main challenger at the moment). If the Sadrist deputies join the ranks of the government’s opponents, al-Maliki could easily lose majority support for his cabinet.

Another possibility is that the Sadrist Current wishes to distance itself from the weakening Maliki cabinet, which enjoys very little popular support and is seen as too subservient for the US occupation, at a time when popular opposition to the occupation is at an all-time-high.

Furthermore, with the successive blows dealt to the “Security Plan”, which came to be identified with person of Nuri al-Maliki, many observers consider al-Maliki’s government to be in its waning days. Muqtada al-Sadr may have simply jumped out of a sinking ship.


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