Friday, May 05, 2006

All eyes on Sadr

Sami Moubayed in the Asia Times:
With such a record, Maliki has much in common with Muqtada. It was Muqtada who helped Jaafari (a split image of Maliki) win the internal UIA vote in February. He wanted Jaafari and Da'wa to counterbalance the influence of the SCIRI and his traditional opponent in Shi'ite politics, Abdu Aziz al-Hakim. Muqtada and Maliki also share a similar vision - as was the case with Jaafari - in not wanting to see a divided Iraq with a Shi'ite region in the south.

At heart, they say - and we have no reason not to believe them - that they are Arab nationalists who believe in Iraq's Arabism. Their only condition is that it be a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq. Both dream of a theocracy modeled after Iran, but independent of Iran. Although Maliki has said he will disarm militias, Muqtada insists that his Mehdi Army is not a militia, and is currently negotiating its future with the prime minister. It is very probable that Maliki will find a way for Muqtada to maintain his Mehdi Army, referring to it as a social organization, for example, rather than an armed militia.

With so much in common - and so few (if any) differences - what can one expect from Maliki in light of Muqtada's ministerial demands?

If Maliki says no to Muqtada, the rebel-cleric can and will work to eject him from office. He has the cards inside the UIA, and also controls the minds and hearts of millions of Iraqi youth. He is also very influential in the slums of Baghdad, among the urban poor, and within the working middle-class Shi'ite community. All combined, their opposition can bring down Maliki.

And if Maliki says "yes" to Muqtada, this will bring him back to the same position that crippled his predecessor, Jaafari. A Maliki manipulated by Muqtada is a Maliki nobody in Iraq wants to deal with - neither the Americans, the Sunnis, the seculars or the Kurds.

A cabinet with seven of Muqtada's men in it is also a cabinet that nobody would want to join - certainly not the Sunnis, and certainly not Allawi, who had tried to eradicate Muqtada's movement when he was prime minister in 2004.

If Maliki lets Muqtada have his way, all of these players will refuse to cooperate in creating a government and Maliki will have to step down. With and without Muqtada, his job is impossible.
I believe we are headed toward another impasse -- if we even had a breakthrough with the government formation.


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