10000 Shiites Protest In Nasiriyah Seek

10,000 Shiites Protest in Nasiriyah, seek Resignation of Provincial Council

Az-Zaman newspaper reports that Muqtada al-Sadr’s organization staged a demonstration of 10,000 in the southern Shiite city of Nasiriyah on Wednesday. They were joined by the Fudala’ Party, also adherents of the martyred Sadiq al-Sadr, but who follow Muhammad Yaqubi rather than Muqtada, Sadiq’s son. Elements from the Sadrist militia, the Army of the Mahdi, also rallied.

They demanded that the appointed provincial council of Dhi Qar province resign, including the governor, Sabri Hamed Badr al-Rumaidh, and be replaced by a popularly elected provincial grovernment. They also wanted the officials and bureaucrats appointed by the current provincial council to be sacked.

AP reported that they chanted, “No to Israel! No to imperialism! No to America!” Nasiriyah, a city of about half a million inhabitants, is 350 kilometers (215 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

Az-Zaman says that there had been an earlier demonstration (presumably the one on Tuesday January 20, held in a number of Shiite towns).

AP says that Coalition authorities are denying that al-Rumaidh has resigned, saying only that he has withdrawn from view.

This demonstration clearly is part of pre-election politics. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called for open national elections. The US says it wants to use the appointed provincial councils to select an electoral college. Muqtada’s followers are hedging their bets. Even if the US sticks to its guns and uses the provincial councils as the electorate, they seem to be saying, they want the provincial councils themselves to have been freely elected beforehand.

Similar demonstrations showing dissatisfaction by Shiites with their Coalition-appointed provincial or municipal councils have broken out in recent weeks in Kut and Amara, two other major southern Shiite towns.

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