Thursday, March 27, 2008

Politics of the Sadr versus Maliki-Hakim confrontation

AlHayat lays out the political hypothesis for the Sadr versus Maliki/Hakim confrontation:

A member of the political council of the Sadrist trend, Isma Musawi, said "There are a lot of reasons behind this recent crisis between the Sadrist trend on the one hand, and the Supreme Council and the government on the other. But the most important reason behind the escalation in stances opposed to the Sadrist trend, is the fact that it announced its effective participation in the provincial elections, something that is not to the liking of many who think of representation of these councils is something registered to their party or to their trend, and that nobody has the right to challenge their projects."
A couple of notes: (1) When he says "effective" participation in the elections, he is probably referring to the fact that Sadr has indicated members of the trend will participate, but the Sadrist trend itself will not become a political party. In that sense "effective" probably means "de facto" as opposed to "in the name of the trend as a political party". (2) Musawi's remarks don't specifically refer to federalism or to any of its possible forms. He is saying that the anxiety of the government and the Supreme Council is owing to the fact Sadrists will be challenging them in provincial elections period. Federalism could be one bone of contention, but his point has to do with provincial-council representation generally.

The AlHayat journalist then quotes a rebuttal from a Supreme Council spokesman:
Ammar Taama, a parliamentary deputy and member of the Supreme Council, rejected what he called "the hypothesis that attributes the current fighting to the struggle between Sadr and Hakim respecting provincial-council elections". He told AlHayat that "the participation of the Sadrists in provincial elections will not produce any effect to speak of. Consequently it is not correct to think that competition in this area is one of the factors in this fight.
It is an interesting argument. He doesn't say the Supreme Council has such respect for democratic procedures that the assumption of a violent prelude to influence an election campaign makes no sense. He doesn't say that at all. What he says is merely that if Sadrists run, they will lose, so such an approach would not be necessary.

However, the journalist also explains that the shape of federalism is one of the points at issue:
It will be remembered that the Sadrist trend opposes the project for a region of the Center and the South as proposed by the Supreme Council. And it is thought that the shape that the local governments take [in the coming provincial elections] will be of fundamental importance in whether this project sees the light of day or is stopped.
In other words, what is at issue between the Sadrists on one side and the Supreme Council and the government on the other (according to this exposition) is the question of Sadrist political power in the provincial councils. And one important aspect of that is the question of federalism. I think this is important to keep in mind, because it has been pointed out that there appear to be differences on federalism-strategy between Maliki and the Supreme Council, and some might conclude that this makes it doubtful whether they are really ganging up on the Sadrists. It doesn't follow. They are ganging up on the Sadrists because the Sadrists are a rival political power with a nation-wide, national-unity, anti-occupation program, and this is a threat to both of them.

The rest of this story is about attempts to convince Maliki to adopt some kind of a negotiating position for ending the crisis, and his refusal to end the military campaign until all of the "outlaws" everywhere have been put down. As Reidar Visser mentioned in his essay yesterday (linked above), it is somewhat suspicious that with each group in Basra having its own militia, the only group coming under attack seems to be the Sadrists.


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