Iraq Arabic News Summary, February 22, 2008

Arabic News From Iraq, Februay 22, 2008

Compiled by Nathaniel Rabkin

Sadr Extends Unilateral Cease Fire For Six Months, Trial of Former Sadrist Officials Delayed

Muqtada al-Sadr announced today that the “freeze” of the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia which he declared in August of 2007 will be extended for another six months. The announcement was read aloud in mosques run by Sadr loyalists.

The August freeze was declared after elements of Jaysh al-Mahdi were implicated in fierce fighting at a pilgrimage festival in Karbala which killed dozens. Jaysh al-Mahdi had also been widely accused of engaging in murder and theft against Sunnis or alleged violators of Islamic law. According to Sadrist spokesmen, the freeze was intended to allow a purge of criminals and “undisciplined elements” from Jaysh al-Mahdi’s ranks.

Although welcomed by Iraq’s other political factions, the freeze has been criticized by some Sadrists, who argue that it has given the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) a free hand to wage a campaign against Sadrists in several provinces of southern Iraq, including Karbala and Diwaniya (Qadisiya). The spokesman of the Office of the Martyr Sadr in Diwaniya, Abu Zaynab al-Karawi, said that he had headed a delegation which visited Muqtada al-Sadr to request that he not extend the freeze. Karawi also accused ISCI of using an organization called the “Popular Committees” to attack and burn the homes of Sadrists in Diwaniya.

Falah Shenshel, a prominent Sadrist parliamentary representative, criticized the response of other factions to the freeze: “If someone extends their hand to you, you should shake it, not cut it off.” He added though that he expected the “popular base” of the Sadrist Current to respect the decision, “and whoever does not obey it will no longer be part of Jaysh al-Mahdi.” Shenshel also noted that the Sadrist Current has non-violent options as well: “We can organize a general strike which will paralyze Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad announced that it was delaying the trial of two Sadrist former officials of the Iraqi health ministry. The announcement was made at what was to have been the opening session of the trial on Wednesday. The two suspects are former deputy Minister of Health Hakim al-Zamili, and the former head of the ministry’s security department, Hamed al-Shamari. The two stand accused of “misuse of official office” and of enabling sectarian killings. At the height of sectarian fighting in Baghdad, the Ministry of Health was widely viewed as implicit in the murder of Sunnis by Shi’ite militias. Sadrist spokesmen and the suspects’ lawyers, however, protest their innocence and accuse the Iraqi government and the United States of putting improper pressure on the court. The official reason given for the delay of the trial was to complete the preparation of evidence and to allow for the arrival in Iraq of a key witness, Ali Hasan al-Shamari, who sought refugee status in the United States after speaking to investigators.


Al-Hayat, Yasin Muhammad Sidqi and Fadil Rashad, “Clashes in Basra Between Security Forces and Breakaways From Jaysh al-Mahdi; Houses of Sadrists Burned in Diwaniya,” February 22, 2008.

Al-Hayat, Jawdat Kazem, “The Defense Insists Upon Their Innocence and Warns of Political Motivations Behind their Indictment; Trial of Two Sadrist Current Officials Delayed.” February 20, 2008.


Efforts to Adjust Cabinet Held Up by Objections and Demands of Various Factions

What follows is a translation of the full text of an article by Husayn Ali Daoud which appeared in the February 22 issue of al-Hayat under the title: “Some Factions Object to a Miniature Cabinet and Others Demand Guarantees; ‘Crisis of Confidence; Holds Up ‘Overhaul’ or Reformation of the Iraqi Government.”

The efforts to form a new Iraqi government to break the political deadlock are struggling with a continued dispute between the political factions over the principles which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will adopt in forming a “Miniature Cabinet of Technocrats” and the continued lack of trust between the various factions. Al-Hayat has learned that political and parliamentary circles are negotiating the the Oil and Gas Law, while Baghdad politicians await the arrival of a Kurdish delegation, headed by the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani. The delegation will participate in negotiations to put the finishing touches on the law. The Executive Council, made up of President Jalal Talabani, his two deputies, Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi, and Prime Minister Maliki, has met repeatedly over the last few days. But its efforts to agree on a mechanism for determining the number of ministers in the next government and their identity have failed.

Omar Abd al-Sattar, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, said that Maliki’s proposal to form a “miniature government” did not receive support from the other members of the Executive Council at its most recent meeting. He added that “the question of changing the cabinet has caused a great deal of dispute between the political factions,” noting that “there are a number of principal differences about the program and form of the cabinet,” and that “most of the factions support reducing the current number of ministers, but the implementation of this principle seems unlikely at the present time, because there is no atmosphere of consensus.” Maliki has been attempting for two weeks to implement his project of forming a miniature cabinet of technocrats, and of securing for himself wide latitude in picking ministers.

A Kurdish proposal put forward two days ago in the Executive Council by Jalal Talabani called for representation in the new cabinet to be apportioned directly to parties rather than to the multi-party parliamentary blocs. This proposal met broad opposition. A leadership figure in the Shi’ite “United Iraqi Alliance” bloc, Haydar al-Abbadi, said that the suggestion would lead to “party quotas worse than the sectarian quotas” from which Iraqi politics currently suffers. Political sources say that a “crisis of trust” is complicating the political situation. The Sunnis insist on receiving various guarantees in return for giving up demands about the makeup of the new cabinet.

The Kurds feel that Maliki’s position with regards to the Kurdish region’s oil resources and the contested city of Kirkuk have created a rift between them and him, and seek new guarantees. Even some of the Shi’ite parties, such as the Sadrist Bloc, accuse the government of abandoning its promise to make competence the sole criterion for choosing ministers. Yasin Majid, a special advisor to the Prime Minister, told al-Hayat that “forming a new cabinet is up to the political blocs, because the government is made up of a coalition.” He also said that “Maliki is working now in two directions: first, negotiating with the Iraqi Accord Front and the Iraqi National List to get these blocs to rescind their resignations from the cabinet, and secondly, convincing the political blocs to accept a new government.” According to Majid, Maliki “expects to receive responses from them about this, but some of them appear to have unhelpful positions.”