A “surprise,” unannounced, convention for the Sadrist movement ended two days ago in Turkey. Headed by Muqtada al-Sadr himself (who was effectuating a formal visit to Turkey) and 70 of the Current’s key leaderships, Sadrist sources who attended said that the convention was a critical juncture for the Sadrist movement and will shape the future of its activism in the coming years.
According to al-Hayat, the Turkey visit and the convention represented Muqtada al-Sadr’s first public appearance since 2007, when he decided to limit his contacts with the outside world to letters and speeches communicated through his associates. The convention may thus mark al-Sadr’s return to the political life, with Sadrist officials affirming that al-Sadr has finished his religious formation in Iran and will soon return to Iraq as a full-fledged Marja' (source of emulation.)
Al-Hayat’s sources said that a major concern of the conference was designing an electoral strategy for the upcoming legislative elections, set for early 2010. Two important decisions emanated from the convention: on the one hand, al-Sadr asserted his refusal for transforming the Current into a traditional political party; on the other, the Current’s leadership formally decided to abandon its coalition with the Shi'a United Iraqi Alliance (UIA,) which has been the main platform for Shi'a representation since 2005.
Sadrist leader Akram Tarazi told the London-based daily that the upper echelons of the Sadrist Current, led by Muqtada, flatly rejected the notion of the Current turning into a classical political party, arguing that such a measure would limit the “large popular base” that currently identifies with the Sadrists.
More significantly, Tarazi confirmed that Sadrist leaders pronounced their alliance with the UIA “a failure” and that “a new map” of coalitions will be drawn for the coming elections. In that sense, the Sadrist convention has formally buried the broad and heterogeneous alliance that defined Shi'a politics for the last years, and has officially launched a new phase of political competition on the Shi'a scene in Iraq whose results and ramifications will – without doubt – be immense.
In security news, a car bomb in a busy vegetables market in Baghdad has caused more than a dozen deaths, al-Jazeera reports. The news channel noted that in last April over 290 Iraqi civilians died in similar acts of violence, the highest recorded number since November.
Meanwhile, Iraqi government officials keep reiterating that their forces will be sufficient to guarantee stability after the US withdrawal. Today, al-Maliki went on record as saying that the scheduled phases of the US withdrawal will not be modified and that his government has no intention to extend the mandate of US troops in troubled areas such as Mosul and Diyala. The Premier, however, said that his forces will require “intelligence” support from the US to thwart attacks and locate suspects, adding that the government can still ask the US forces for help if the situation worsens in the future.
In other news, Az-Zaman focused in its front page on statements by UN officials accusing the Iraqi government of meting out execution orders to suspects whose confessions were obtained under torture. These allegations began after 12 convicts were hanged on Sunday, after an 18-months unofficial moratorium on executions.
On a different front, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda exhibited the unique situation of the media in Iraq, after it announced that it will (willingly) suspend its publication for three days as a form of self-inflicted punishment for a report that was perceived as attacking Muqtada al-Sadr.
The paper, which maintains an unapologetic Shi'a sectarian tone, fronted with a profuse apology to Muqtada: “if not for you, not a single Shi'a would have remained in Baghdad ... we apologize, Sayyid Muqtada, the symbol of resistance ... a thousand apologies” read the headline. Perhaps, as a form of “compensation” another front page item pronounced: “Italian expert: Muqtada al-Sadr dons a political mind and great tolerance.”
If all that was not enough, the paper’s editor wrote a piece explaining that he left the hospital (where he is being treated from cancer) “to express my solidarity and apologies.” Another item noted that the paper had originally decided to close for an entire week, but claimed that the Sadrist office and Muqtada himself said that they were against the closure of the paper! At any rate, the paper informed its readers that “al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda will not be published, as an apology to Sayyid Muqtada ... for three days (!)”
Lastly, the Swine Flu scare has reached Iraq. In Basra, Az-Zaman reports, a campaign is being launched to exterminate the population of wild boars that inhabits the regions of Faw and some parts of the marshlands surrounding the southern city. According to the daily, Basra officials are demanding to be supplied with military aircraft to carry out the mission.