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Daily Column
Iraqi Papers Tuesday: A New Era?
Sadrist Withdrawal from the Government Redefines the Political landscape
By AMER MOHSEN 04/16/2007 9:42 PM ET
The withdrawal of the six Sadrist ministers from the cabinet seems to be sparking a new political dynamic in Iraq. The statements -by the Sadrists and the government- following the withdrawal are showing that these parties are in the process of redefining their position vis-à-vis each other and demarcating their political differences after two years of awkward cohabitation.

Az-Zaman took a clear anti-Maliki stance, highlighting the critical Sadrist statements and relaying the attacks against the government. The pronouncements of Muqtada and his leadership yesterday conveyed a clear sense of “emancipation” on the part of the Sadrists who, now, can attack the government and its policies without having to explain their presence in the cabinet.

A statement by Muqtada al-Sadr (read by Nassar al-Rubai'i- the chair of the Sadrist bloc in the parliament) painted the government as a collaborationist, unpatriotic and corrupt entity. In a thinly-veiled attack on the current cabinet, Muqtada expressed his wishes that the ministers who occupy the cabinet seats be “independent, working for the interest of the country and its people, and do not engage in power-sharing deals: whether they be sectarian, ethnic or political.”

Another part of the statement read: “I supplicate the lord ... to send this people (of Iraq) an independent government, one that is distant from the occupation.”

Nassar Al-Rubai'i also commented on the government’s performance saying that “(the head of the government) should represent the will of the people ... and the people expressed itself in the million-man march in Najaf (protesting the US occupation) ... but he (Nuri al-Maliki) is –regrettably- representing the will of the occupational forces.”

Al-Rubai'i also enumerated a long list of issues that distance his party from the government, ranging from the lack of efficacy and service-provision to substantive political differences, pertaining mostly to the government’s position towards the US occupation and its engagement in sectarian power-sharing.

On the other end of the journalistic spectrum, al-Mada presented a more “sympathetic” coverage of the government’s reaction and relayed the Sadrist statements without quoting the more ardent attacks against the person of al-Maliki.

Al-Mada also focused on government reactions that attempted to underplay the differences between al-Maliki and the Sadrist Current. The newspaper quoted an advisor to the Prime Minister who insisted that Muqtada and Maliki share a “similar patriotic vision ...but differ over the application.”

Al-Mada also stressed that the Sadrist resignation will allow al-Maliki to enact his “cabinet reform” that has been discussed for several months now; and will allow al-Maliki to introduce “technocratic” figures into the government, after his cabinet was repeatedly attacked for being over-politicized, with ministers that are chosen on the basis of sectarian and political arrangements, rather than competence and skills.

The Sadrists also reacted to attempts to portray their departing ministers as incompetent and corrupt, and insisted that they did not stand against government reforms in the past. Nassar al-Rubai'i claimed in the press conference that no ministers were imposed on Maliki and that –during the forming of the cabinet- a list of 18 Sadrist candidates was presented to him to choose from. Al-Rubai'i also insisted that, in the face of popular discontent with the government’s performance, “we decided to give (al-Maliki) the authority to replace all of our ministers.”

Az-Zaman advanced the thesis that the withdrawal of the Sadrist bloc from the government will transfer the party from the ranks of the establishment to that of the parliamentary opposition. Given the size of the Sadrist bloc (30 seats) they will, no doubt, be courted by other political groups wishing to pressure or replace the current government.

More significantly, the Sadrist withdrawal may mark a new shift in Iraqi politics, from rigid sectarian alliances that act as a single “bloc” to a more diversified system with a less predictable dynamic. In any case, the recent episode between the Sadrists and al-Maliki has exhibited a major shift in the Iraqi political lingo, where the term “sectarian” -for all parties- became synonymous with corruption and lack of patriotism, unlike the openly sectarian discourse that prevailed in the months leading up to the general elections.


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