March Madness Hits Iraq's Election
Apparently not even Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is willing to challenge Muqtadā al-Sadr.
The Associated Press reported yesterday, “In a surprise move ahead of weekend elections, Iraq's highest judicial body has renewed an arrest warrant against an anti-U.S. Shiite leader for the murder of a moderate cleric nearly seven years ago.”
Shortly thereafter, Iraqi news sites like Alsumaria picked up a denial from Al Maliki’s office labeling the reports “cheap election propaganda” driven by political motives.
Cabinet spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh informed Alsumaria that Sayyed Muqtadā al-Sadr is a patriotic man regarded as part of the political process, and is welcome back in Iraq (al-Sadr currently resides in Iran). The AP quoted Al Dabbagh as saying, “Al Sadr’s return is a national necessity aimed to lead Al Sadr Front which is viewed as a national and influential party in the country.”
Nothing about Iraq’s looming election is simple though.
A move against al-Sadr, who has risen in the Iraqi polls and the US media, can’t be that surprising. Sitting at second place under the Iraqi National Alliance, both the umbrella’s other main party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and al-Maliki officials admit that al-Sadr’s political and religious influence has grown too much for their liking. The aspiring ayatollah recently called for a mass Shiite turnout to vote for an independent Iraq.
Were Iraq’s election to end roughly as The Guardian claims - al-Maliki’s State of Law with 30% of the seats, Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Movement at 22%, and al-Sadr’s Iraqi National Alliance at 17% - the parliamentary system would still give al-Sadr sizable influence headed into Iraq’s post-occupation phase. All the more if he pulls off a surprising showing as he did in Iraq’s 2009 governorate elections.
And it’s hard to believe America or al-Maliki want al-Sadr to have any power.
The election was never going to be smooth, but the political system it rests on risks becoming overloaded. An infant democracy to begin with, sectarian tensions remain pricked as multiple political factors converge on March 7th: Ahmad Chalabi and banned candidates, Sunnis, Saddam officers, guns, oil, al-Sadr, Kurds, and US influence.Continued on the next page