Thousands of Sadrists Demonstrate in Kirkuk
AFP reports that nearly 2000 members of the Army of the Mahdi, the militia headed by young Shiite radical Muqtada al-Sadr, demonstrated in Kirkuk on Saturday. The demonstration coincided with a general strike by the city’s approximately 300,000 Turkmen residents. Even the police stayed home.
Ibrahim Khayyat at al-Hayat provides further details. Muqtada’s representative in Kirkuk, Abdul Fattah al-Musawi, said, “The goal of putting 18 companies, or 1750 men (and 180 women), on parade, was to reinforce the unity of Muslim Iraqis with non-Muslim Iraqis. “Kirkuk,” he said, “is for all its inhabitants, not just for a particular group.”
The parade lasted for about two hours. The Shiites of Kirkuk and of the surrounding area joined in, raising the Iraqi flag (the Kurds have their own provincial flag), and pictures of Muqtada and of his father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (who was assassinated by Saddam in 1999).
Jalal Jawhar of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said that there was no objection to the demonstration, since it was part of democracy, but that it had to remain peaceful. He also considered that “the goal of parading troops was to demonstrate the power of Muqtada’s supporters and to underline their presence.”
One of the issues that has derailed the passage of a fundamental law or interim constitution by the Interim Govering Council is Kurdish demands. The Kurdish parties insist on a very loose federalism, Swiss style, and they also want Kirkuk added to a consolidated Kurdish province. Kirkuk has never been a majority Kurdish city, since the Turkmen predominated there, and since the 1990s Saddam expelled thousands of Kurds and brought in Arab residents. The city is said to be one third, Turkmen, one third Arab and one third Kurdish. Ethnic violence broke out in January in the wake of a public Kurdish call for the city to be added to the Kurdish province. There are many petroleum wellheads around Kirkuk, and the Kurds want control of them. They want, as in Canada, for the provincial government to control petroleum in its province.
The Kurdish demands on Kirkuk are absolutely unacceptable to the Sunni Arabs and Turkmen. A loose federalism has long been rejected by the Shiite al-Da`wa Party. As far back as 1996, al-Da`wa broke with Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress in large part because he had acquiesced to the Kurdish demands for loose federalism. Likewise, the Sadrists want a strong central government.
One question I have is about the ethnicity of Muqtada’s supporters in Kirkuk. I’ve been told that perhaps a majority of the Turkmen are Shiites, and that they have in recent decades given up their unorthodox folk religion for orthodox Twelver Shiism, and that many followed Sadiq al-Sadr. Among the hundreds of thousands of Arabs relocated north by Saddam were, in addition, lots of Shiites. It would be interesting to know if the Army of the Mahdi militia in Kirkuk is mixed ethnically, with both Turkmen and Arabs.
Al-Musawi’s statement about reinforcing ties with non-Muslims is also bizarre, and one wonders if the Sadrists are trying to put together a Shiite-Chaldean alliance against the Kurds in the north. If you combined the 600,000 Iraqi Christians, many of whom are in Ninevah province, with the 600,000 Turkmen or so, and added to them all the Arabs relocated to the north by Saddam, it would be a non-trivial alliance against the 4 million or so Iraqi Kurds.