Iraqi Shiite Party rises as Sadr falls
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq aims to capitalize on the disarray within Moqtada al-Sadr's movement ahead of provincial elections planned for October.
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On Friday, Sheikh Salim al-Darraji, an ISCI official based in Basra, was assassinated in a part of the city traditionally controlled by Sadrists. It comes one week after Basra's chief of military intelligence was killed in a predominantly Shiite part of eastern Baghdad.Skip to next paragraph
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The ultimate goal of ISCI and Badr is to consolidate their grip on southern Iraq and to create a nine-province Shiite region on par with the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north. This is a subject of great controversy among many Iraqis, including the Sadrists.
"We believe the elections are extremely important. We will run jointly with (ISCI). We both have a significant base of public support," says Hadi al-Ameri, Badr's leader and a senior member of the Iraqi parliament.
Mr. Ameri's announcement marks a stark departure from ISCI's strategy during the January and December 2005 elections when it was the pivotal player in assembling a grand Shiite coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). That bloc swept the largest number of seats in parliament and ushered into power the Shiites and Kurds, who came in second.
At that time, Mr. Hakim brought Sadr into the coalition in the second round of elections. Sadr's partisans clinched 32 seats and were instrumental in the selection of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister. In the end, the Sadrists received six cabinet posts.
But acrimonious intra-Shiite disputes precipitated the UIA's unraveling last year. First, the Fadhila Party quit, then Sadrist ministers left the government in April and the UIA altogether in September.
Even though fighting between Sadr's Mahdi Army and American and Iraqi forces has largely quieted, ISCI and Badr have not relented from castigating the young cleric's movement.
"The Sadrist movement used to cover up its illegal actions with the excuse that they were engaged in a political struggle with (ISCI). They can't say this anymore," says Badr's Ameri. "At the end, it's a struggle between the government and gangs of outlaws that belong to their movement."
Ameri, who met with Sadr in Iran in March during the height of the Basra battles with the Mahdi Army, says he believes that the cleric bowed to intense pressure at the time and that his statement last month urging his militiamen to turn to more charitable activities is "effectively dissolving the Mahdi Army without losing face.
In unusually blunt language, Ameri says Sadr would bear the consequences if his militia were to be implicated in any further acts of violence, including action against US troops. "This will be a strategic mistake, and he will be responsible for all the legal and judicial consequences of the actions of these groups."
At the stadium rally, as ISCI and Badr leaders exited, throngs of men clamored over an iron fence to touch Ammar al-Hakim, Abdul-Aziz's son and the movement's next presumptive leader. Some managed to grab his hand and kiss it in a sign of extreme deference.