Da’wa Party Goes on Offensive Against Militias… - 05.06.2006

…but is it motivated by national pride or political protection?

The Da’wa Party has one of Iraq’s smaller militias. Today Jawad Al’Maliki, in one of his first public acts as Prime Minister, took steps to curb the power of Iraq’s political party militias.

According to Reuters:

“Arms should be in the hands of the government. There is a law that calls for the merging of militias with the armed forces,” Maliki said in his first policy speech after he was asked by President Jalal Talabani to head Iraq’s new government.

Iraq’s interim government has promised several times it will disband Iraq’s powerful sectarian militias but has never delivered. Militias are tied to political parties so disbanding them would be highly sensitive.

Al’Maliki is making positive waves with this proclamation to curb the militias immediately, however his selection raises other concerns for Iraq’s new “democracy. According to Sabrina Tavernise, writing for the New York Times, here published by the Seattle Times:

One independent Shiite woman politician said she had experienced difficulties with al-Maliki because she was a woman. Shatha al-Musawi said al-Maliki had refused to include her and three other Shiite women in a committee that was negotiating over the prime minister’s post.

“The incident, along with my history of work with him in the National Assembly, gave me this impression that he thinks women are not qualified enough for this kind of job,” she said.

The Australian news outlet “The Age” has taken the tack of describing Al’Malki’s actions as sending “mixed signals on the critical issue of disbanding armed militias.” Unfortunately, Louise Roug’s assertions become questionable given her apparent inability to recognize the differences between the various Shi’a political parties:

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on Sunday that militias and other “death squads” were “a serious challenge to stability in Iraq to building a successful country based on rule of law”. But taking guns out of politics remains a challenge in a country where political forces have assembled armed forces to back their agendas.

Mr Maliki’s own coalition is backed by two Shiite militias, the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Many Shiite politicians, who control most seats in Parliament, refuse to refer to their armed wings as “militias”, and dismiss charges that members of the Iraqi security forces are loyal to Shiite clerics such as Sheikh al-Sadr, rather than the national Government.

Although Da’wa, SCIRI, and Badr are all part of the umbrella United Iraqi Alliance Shi’a political bloc, they have very different origins and allegiances. SCIRI in fact came to life in 1982 after a split with the Da’wa al’Islamiyah Party. Although the Badr Militia and Mehdi Army are both militias connected to political parties in the UIA, they have very different goals and very different allegiances. For the time being Da’wa appears to have been able to preserve an alliance with the Mehdi Army, but that puts it in direct conflict with the Badr Organization, who have the intention of fomenting Iran’s Islamic Revolution inside Iraq.

Further greying the confusing realm of Iraqi politics, despite Jawad Al’Maliki’s apparently warm welcome by all of Iraq’s current political parties, many allege there is perhaps a dinar’s worth of difference between the outgoing incumbent and his successor. (And for my reader’s who don’t know, that’s a fair bit less than a dime’s worth!)

According to Sami Moubayed, published in the Asia Times:

There is nothing in his background, however, to show that Jawad al-Maliki will be any better than Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Maliki, after all, has all of Jaafari’s weaknesses and none of his strengths. Jaafari is more experienced, better connected in the Arab world, and more politically independent than Maliki. Like Jaafari, however, Maliki is a product of political Islam. Both of them are allied to the rebel-cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and both are equally sectarian in their policies, having turned a blind eye to the Shi’ite death squads that roamed the streets of Iraq and gunned down prominent Sunnis after February’s bombing of a holy Shi’ite shrine in Samarra.

The two men claim to oppose sectarian violence, and both call for incorporating the militias into the Iraqi army. Both are in favor of appointing sectarian officials at the ministries of Defense and Interior, a demand that is backed by their ally Muqtada al-Sadr. Both are opposed to collaborating with the strong and US-backed former secular prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Both are friends of Iran, although they do not take orders directly from the mullahs of Tehran, unlike the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) and its leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. Both want to create an Iran-like regime in Iraq but one that is politically independent from Tehran.

They share three good traits in common: both respect the integrity of the country and refuse to create a Shi’ite regime in the south; both want to crush the Sunni insurgency of former Ba’athists and the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda; and both are guided by the rules and wisdom of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Mr. Moubayed goes on to provide a lengthy description of Al’Maliki’s background and early years as well as the lack of distinction he sees between the two candidates.

Despite Jalal Talabani’s initial support of Jawad Al’Maliki, with Maliki’s recent declaration to disband the militias tension already appears to be rising between the Kurdish representatives in Baghdad and the newly selected Prime Minister.

Also from The Age article cited above, President Jalal Talabani was quoted describing Prime Minister Talabani on Saturday:

“We have all signed up to a national political program that will ensure unity, democracy and the rule of law,” Mr Talabani said. He praised Mr Maliki. “He is a patriot who was firm in his struggle against dictatorship,” he said.

However Agence France Presse quoted Mr. Talabani on Sunday, responding to Jawad Al’Maliki’s calls on the political parties to disband their militias:

“Peshmerga is not a militia. It is a regulated force,” Talabani, a Kurd, said at a joint news conference with US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in Arbil and telecast live on Al-Iraqiya state-television.

In his book, “Night Draws Near” Anthony Shadid repeatedly recalls an Iraqi proverb that reflects their concept of “ghamidh” or “mysteriousness.” According to Shadid, Iraqis can often be heard to say, “The mud is getting wetter.” Despite having been returned to the States for nearly six months, I finally feel like I am beginning to understand the concept.

Although the tone of the foreign press the last few days has generally been one of hope, I feel that now, more than ever, this is an appropriate description for the ever shifting sands of Iraq.

A new Prime Minister has been elected, Summer is on its way, but still, the mud is getting wetter.

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