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Beyond Kingmaker: Moqtada al-Sadr and the Future of Iraq
Posted on Oct 24, 2010
By Scott Ritter
Jaafari replaced the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who owed his political power more to his former associations with Western intelligence services (the CIA and MI-6) than any popularity engendered among the Iraqi people. Allawi, as the head of the foreign intelligence-funded Iraqi National Alliance (INA), carried out anti-Saddam activities including the planning and implementation of a failed coup attempt in June 1996. It is this status as an anti-Saddam leader that the CPA believed would give Allawi credibility as an Iraqi political figure. But Allawi’s tenure as Iraqi prime minister was contentious, with resistance to the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq rapidly escalating. Under Allawi, Iraq supported several major American military operations, including two, against the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah and the Shiite religious center of Najaf, which proved to be extremely controversial among the Iraqi people given the level of violence inflicted upon the local populations. Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord Party fared poorly in the January 2005 election, and Allawi was replaced by Jaafari in April 2005. Allawi’s Iraq National Accord did even worse in the December 2005 elections, and while his party participated in the unity government that was formed from that election, Allawi himself did not take a seat in Parliament.
Ibrahim Jaafari was, at the time of his selection as prime minister, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, which was founded for the purpose of promoting Islamic rule in Iraq. In the 1970s the Dawa Party began waging an armed struggle against Saddam Hussein’s regime, leading to a violent crackdown against Dawa that drove Jaafari and others into exile. Jaafari left Iraq for Iran in 1980, where he represented the Dawa Party and where, in 1983, he brought the Dawa Party into the fold of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an umbrella group of anti-Saddam Shiites who made common cause with Iran in its war against Iraq. Dawa by that time had been severely weakened in its fight with Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Jaafari found both himself and his party politically subordinated to Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI.
The Dawa-SCIRI relationship was strained over SCIRI’s close relationship with Iran. With Iran’s strong support, SCIRI became the dominant Iraqi Shiite military and political force confronting Saddam Hussein, and when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, forcing Saddam out of power, SCIRI, headed by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (who headed the military wing of SCIRI, known as the Badr organization), became the dominant political force in Iraq. When Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was assassinated in August 2003, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim took over as the head of SCIRI. But Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was more interested in cementing his role as the political leader of Iraq’s Shiites than he was in solving the myriad problems the country faced. His decision to allow Jaafari to become prime minister allowed the Shiites to continue to lead Iraq, but deflected any fault in the governance of Iraq away from SCIRI and onto its political rival, Dawa.
Hakim’s political maneuvering proved to be a dual-edged sword. Jaafari, a compromise leader weakened by a growing sectarian conflict and ongoing anti-U.S. insurgency, was never able to effectively govern, ran afoul of the U.S. government over charges of ineffective leadership and was forced to step down from office. Nouri al-Maliki, who at the time served as the deputy Iraqi prime minister, assumed his position by default, replacing Ibrahim al-Jaafari in April 2006. Malaki, like Jaafari, was a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party. From 1979 until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, he had helped organize Dawa’s guerrilla war against Saddam Hussein from exile in Syria (1979-1982 and 1990-2003) and Iran (1982-1990).
Square, Site wide
Jaafari’s ouster as prime minister reinforced Hakim’s astute observation that the prime minister’s office was a political minefield. But it also paved the way for a new post-Saddam political constituency, this time under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki. Prior to being selected as prime minister, Maliki was a little-known political figure whose primary reputation had been derived from overseeing the de-Baathification efforts of the Jaafari government. The United States made common cause with Maliki’s government in cracking down on the Sunni-based insurgency, something that helped cement his reputation as being prejudiced against the Iraqi Sunni community, and elevated his status among many, but not all, in the Iraqi Shiite community. In an effort to consolidate his political power, Nouri al-Maliki confronted Moqtada al-Sadr, who headed a powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, which openly challenged both the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as well as the American-allied Iraqi security forces directed by Maliki. Maliki’s Iraqi constituency is derived more from his status as a U.S.-backed authority, and the power that brings, than any grass-roots draw among the population.
It was the “surge” of American combat power in 2006-2007, more than anything else, that established Maliki’s authority to govern. This authority has been openly challenged by Sadr, who insists that Iraq be governed by Iraqis who are free of outside influence. Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in open conflict with U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi Army in 2004, and again in 2006. A ceasefire prompted by the U.S. surge of military forces in 2007 led to the demobilization of much of the Mahdi Army, but, in 2008, open conflict again erupted when Maliki ordered his forces to confront and dismantle the Mahdi Army. The near-civil war that erupted as a result created fissures from within the Shiite political coalition that had won the 2005 elections.
In an effort to secure the continuation of Shiite-dominated rule, Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for a change in Iraq’s election laws, replacing the closed list ballots of the past with a new open list system that empowered the electorate to vote for individuals rather than political parties. In this way, a political figure like Maliki could remain viable even though his political coalition was not. But the open list system turned out to be a debacle. The required new Iraqi election laws were not passed by Parliament until November 2009, delaying the election until March 2010. The emergence of numerous new political parties only confused an Iraqi electorate still new to the concept of national elections. The March 2010 election not only failed to produce an outright winner, but created the conditions in which a viable coalition government was virtually impossible to form.
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