Sadrists occupy Provincial HQ in Nasiriyah, force Resignation of some Members of Provincial Council
Sat. 8:30 pm. Just checked my email and am getting some information indirectly from a CPA source in Nasiriyah that challenges the al-Zaman story below on some particulars. The source claims that although there was a demonstration last Wednesday, the governor did not leave his offices and the Sadrists did not occupy them. Also alleges that Sadrist calls for a further demonstration on Friday only brought out a few hundred protesters.
al-Zaman reports Muslim religious groups took over the provincial government offices of Dhi Qar in the city of al-Nasiriyah on Wednesday and forced the governor, Sabri Hamed Badr al-Rumaidh, to leave the building with his personal guard. The occupation of the building came after numerous warnings from the Fudala group, led by Shaikh As`ad al-Nasiri, and the Sadr II movement, led locally by Shaikh Aws al-Khafaji (and nationally by Muqtada al-Sadr). They had repeatedly demanded that the local provincial council be dissolved, since it had been appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and which had elected the governor. Under popular pressure, several of the members of the provincial council resigned, but the governor just departed.
The incident came after a demonstration called for by the religious political parties in the city last Wednesday. The demonstrators began at the al-Hububi square and wound their way to the offices of the governor. They surrounded the building from 10 am until 2 pm. The demonstrators increased their numbers by calling out members of the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia from surrounding suburbs and districts. After a long shouting contest between the two sides with loudspeakers, the governor left the building, allowing the protesters to enter it. Some protesters then went to the HQ of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the city, seeking to force it to acquiesce in the new status quo.
Oddly, the Iraqi police in Nasiriyah declined to intervene in these events one way or another, and stood aside as spectators. Then in another striking development, the representative of Paul Bremer in the city, John Bourne, went on local television to explain that direct elections could not be held to select a new provincial council. He called on everyone to remain calm. Despite having announced the resignation of some members of the current provincial council “for private reasons,” he declined to question its legitimacy, and merely promised to add other members to replace the ones who had resigned. (This has all been a close paraphrase of the al-Zaman article).
The Italians provide the military force in Nasiriyah, a large town of half a million, but they are probably garrisoned outside the city and the report does not mention them as a factor. (They suffered from a bomb attack on November 12 that killed a large number of their troops.)
Some 10,000 Sadrists had demonstrated on January 28 in Nasiriyah, following similar unrest in the nearby cities of Amara and Kut. This Shiite dominated area of the middle to lower Euphrates had not traditionally been a stronghold of the Sadrist movement. With the prospect of national elections sometime this year, popular dissatisfaction with the US- and British-appointed provincial councils has been used by the Sadrists in their attempt to force direct elections at the provincial level before national elections are held.
Recent press reporting from Nasiriyah paints it as a desperate city with high unemployment and some 8000 demobilized and penniless former soldiers in Saddam’s army. Both branches of the radical movement founded by Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the Sadrists and the Fudala, appear to have made substantial numbers of converts to in the past 8 months. Nasiriyah is also a stronghold of the secretive al-Da`wa party founded around 1958, which aims at establishing an Islamic state.