Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sistani may support proposed moderate coalition / federalism law may have contributed to gridlock, but did not cause boycott

"Iraq’s most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.
. . . But Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say.
. . . Since winning 130 of the 275 seats in Parliament, the Shiite bloc has never coalesced as Ayatollah Sistani intended it to, and factional rivalries have deepened, particularly over the past several months. A law enabling provinces to form autonomous regions, approved in October, was supported by Mr. Hakim but bitterly opposed by Mr. Sadr and members of the Fadhila Party, a Shiite group close to Mr. Sadr.
The Shiite infighting has paralyzed the government. Since Mr. Sadr’s loyalists began boycotting the government last month, the Parliament has been unable to form a quorum, preventing the passage of laws.
The new coalition is aimed at circumventing that kind of conflict, its leaders say, which is probably why Ayatollah Sistani is willing to lend his support." [1]

Though Hakim's federalism law apparently did increase tension between him and Sadr and may have contributed to government gridlock, the November boycott by Sadr loyalists was due to Prime Minister Maliki's decision to meet with President Bush in Amman, Jordan, not because of the federalism law as may be implied by the way the above quotation was written.

"Iraqi lawmakers and cabinet ministers allied with Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, a bloc that was pivotal in bringing Maliki to power in May, launched a boycott Wednesday [November 29] of their governmental duties to protest Maliki's decision to meet with Bush [in Amman.]" [2]

"Sadr [in calling the boycott] is bringing pressure to bear on Maliki to not give in to demands by the United States on security matters. They include the U.S. drive to dismantle Iraq's Shiite militias, of which Sadr runs the largest and most violent, the Mahdi Army." [3]

I also believe that Bush said in a speech or press conference within several months prior to the Amman summit that he did not support federalism as a solution to the current crises in Iraq, though I can't locate the quote. And I believe that Maliki also did not support federalism as a solution, though again, I can't locate the quote.

It may also have been better if the October federalism law vote had been put off until the government could have passed some laws or until it became apparent that they weren't going to pass any laws because of the already existing tensions. And with the 18-month lag time between the law's passage and its implementation (which only allows each province to vote if they want federalism for themselves, it does not impose federalism on everyone), federalism has not had the opportunity to show whether it can help lessen the violence or not.

It was surprising that the vote came up when it did, nonetheless. And I still support federalism as a possible solution, by the way. Though the Iraqi people would have to be persuaded to support federalism beforehand.

[1] The New York Times. Top Shiite Cleric Is Said to Favor a Coalition for Iraq. December 20, 2006.
[2] The Washington Post. Bush, Maliki Meet After First Talks Are Canceled. November 30, 2006.
[3] The Washington Post. Sadr Casts a Shadow Over Bush-Maliki Meeting. November 30, 2006.

Peace in the middle east

posted: thursday, december 21, 2006, 3:45 PM ET
update: saturday, december 23, 2006, 1:12 PM ET

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