The following commentary originally appeared in Musings On Iraq
The followers of Moqtada al-Sadr are coming under increasing fire. As reported earlier, on October 9, 2008, Sadrist member of parliament Saleh al-Auqaeili was assassinated in a bombing near Sadr City. Sadr’s followers initially blamed the U.S. for the death, which led to a brief clash between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi and U.S. forces, in Baghdad. Later, they blamed criminals gangs, which has usually meant breakaway Sadrist elements or Iranian backed Special Groups. On October 20, Alsumaria TV reported that two suspected culprits were arrested for the assault. They were members of the local electricity directorate, which gave them access to the area that was near an Iraqi army checkpoint, and patrolled by the United States. Iraqi authorities said they came from Sadr City and belonged to an outlaw group.
There are also more reports pointing towards a growing gap between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Together they make up two-thirds of the coalition behind Maliki’s government and are both members of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). However, the UIA largely exists in name only as the Dawa and the SIIC are planning on running against each other in the upcoming provincial elections. This increasing divide is being played out in places like Babil, Qadisiyah, Nasiriyah, Maysan provinces, and Baghdad. In June when Maliki sent forces against the Sadrists in Maysan, the security forces tore down posters of SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. A few months later, the SIIC protested a new police chief sent to Nasiriyah by the Interior Ministry. In late September, an Iraqi Army unit and U.S. forces raided the headquarters of the SIIC’s Badr Brigade in Hilla, the capital of Babil. The SIIC governor claimed they only had AKs for personal defense, but Iraqi forces said they came away with missiles and IEDs. In October, a dinner celebrating the end of Ramadan by the al-Fatla tribe in Qadisiyah was interrupted by SIIC controlled police. The sheikh from the tribe had recently agreed to head the government funded Tribal Support Council. As noted earlier, the councils are an attempt by Maliki to build up his support in the south. The SIIC has condemned their formation. Finally, a draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq to maintain a U.S. presence in the country after United Nations authorization expires on December 31, 2008 was passed to government officials. SIIC leader Hakim said his party had kept silent on the issue because if it failed, they wanted the blame to fall on Maliki.
All of these developments are linked to the inter-Shiite struggle for power in the face of upcoming elections. The Sadrists, Maliki’s Dawa, and the Supreme Council, once all allies in the United Alliance, are now rivals. They will all be competing for provincial council seats across the Shiite south and Baghdad. This has led to an up tick in assassinations as in the case of Saleh al-Auqaeili, and increasing political disputes between Maliki and the SIIC. When the elections actually happen, they could lead to the rise of new independent parties and individual politicians, a redistribution of power amongst the Sadrists, SIIC, and Dawa, or violence between them to hold onto or increase their position.
For more on the SIIC-Maliki/Dawa split see:
Maliki Responds To His Critics On Tribal Support Councils
Disputes Over Tribal Support Councils
For more on assassinations of Sadrists see:
Another Sadrist Assassinated
Sadrist Cleric Assassinated In Basra
Alsumaria, “2 perpetrators involved in Sadrist MP assassination arrested,” 10/20/08
Fleishman, Jeffrey, “Shiite fighters clash with Iraqi, U.S. troops in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 10/10/08
Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Shiite split could complicate Iraqi efforts to approve security pact with US,” Associated Press, 10/16/08
Klapper, Bradley, “Thousands of al-Sadr supporters mourn lawmaker,” Associated Press, 10/10/08
Levinson, Charles and Nabhan, Ali, “Iraqi tribes caught between rival Shiite parties,” USA Today, 10/20/08
Parker, Sam, “ISCI/Da’wa alliance showing strain,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 9/17/08
Reuters, “U.S. Pact Hits Snag As Iraqi Shi’a Seek Changes,” 10/19/08
Visser, Reidar, “More Tension between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Badr Brigades, This
Time in Hilla,” Historiae.org, 9/29/08
Voices of Iraq, “SIIC denies it had banned arms in Babel office,” 9/29/08