US Kills Maliki Relative; Fadhila Accuses Grand Ayatollah of conspiracy

Ooops. A US military operation in Karbala province at Janaja resulted in the arrest of one Iraqi and the killing of another. The dead Iraqi is said to be a relative of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The governor of Karbala province, Uqail al-Khazali, complained that the US military had acted unilaterally and had not coordinated with him. (He was probably deeply embarrassed that one of al-Maliki’s kinsmen had been killed on his watch, and wants to make sure to fix the blame where it belongs). Al-Khazali is said to be from the Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa), to which al-Maliki also belongs.

The US had been negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with al-Maliki, and arguing for the US military to retain the prerogative of launching operations at will and without coordinating with the Iraqi government. If that provision had not already been dead, I think it is now.

Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic on the sermon of Sheikh Ali Safi, a representative in Karbala of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He urged people to cease and desist their wrangling about the terms of next fall’s elections. He called for the elections to be upright and transparent, and warned that some elements were attempting to stop them from being held.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that the Islamic Virtue (Fadhila) Party is accusing clerical aides and agents of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Basra of acting as agents of its rival, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (led by cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim). They say that ISCI party events are taking place in the mosques and Husayniyas controlled by the ayatollah’s representatives and that the latter or their sons are running for provincial office under the ISCI banner.

Provincial elections have been scheduled for this fall, and Basra is a huge prize. A major oil province and the site of Iraq’s only major ports, it affords whoever controls it a potential stranglehold on Iraq. In Juanuary, 2005, of 41 provincial council seats, the Islamic Supreme Council took 20. The Islamic Virtue Party and its allies cobbled together a ruling coalition of 21 and so got to appoint the governor. The Islamic Virtue Party is clearly worried that ISCI will find unfair ways to enhance its position in the province and capture control of it in the fall elections. Deploying the mosque infrastructure and the great prestige of the office of the grand ayatollah would give ISCI a major advantage.

ISCI for its part desperately wants Basra because it is key to the party’s plan to establish an 8-province Shiite superprovince that would be able to claim 100% of all new oil finds in the Iraqi south. It is likely that the attack on the slums of Basra by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s security forces in March and April was intended to help ISCI in the upcoming elections by weakening the Sadr Movement.