Sadrists Boycott National Congress
As US Troops Surround Muqtada’s House
Az-Zaman is reporting that US troops surrounded Muqtada al-Sadr’s house on Sunday for several hours before withdrawing. It was not known if he was in the house. He had come out of hiding to deliver the Friday prayers sermon in Kufa this weekend. He delivered a blistering attack on the US occupation forces and on the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi.
The US has been trying to arrest or kill him since early April, but the government of PM Iyad Allawi had seemed to seek some accommodation, allowing his newspaper, al-Hawzah al-Natiqah, to reopen after the Americans had closed it. The American siege of Muqtada’s home on Sunday seems a reversal of the new policy. (I take the al-Zaman report with something of a grain of salt until I see other corroboration).
Muqtada al-Sadr and his radical Shiite followers boycotted elections on Sunday that prepared the way for a national congress. On Sunday, Iraqis began choosing 1000 delegates to the national congress, which will in turn elect 80 out of 100 members of a National Assembly. This largely ceremonial body will have veto over some decisions of Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, but is not empowered to make new laws or to repeal the laws passed by fiat by US viceroy Paul Bremer before June 30, 2004. According to AP, Sadrist spokesman Ali al-Yasseri said, “We originally supported the idea, and agreed to take part because we know in the rest of the world, such an assembly would be considered the nation’s parliament . . . But this assembly will have no legislative authority. … This body will have no powers. We see this as a trick on the Iraqi people. It’s a sad joke.” The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq, a Shiite rival of the Sadrists, were also critical of the national assembly elections.
The elections Sunday were generally problematic, according to James Tarabay of AP. Basra, Kut and Kirkuk were having trouble electing their delegates because of factional disputes. There were also questions about how fair the election process was. As with all the elections so far held in Iraq since the US occupation began, they are not one person, one vote elections but rather some complicated expression of consensus by handpicked notables.
Robin Wright of the Washington Post explains: “The selection process, which began last week, used a complicated formula to come up with 548 delegates from Iraq’s 18 provinces, including 130 from Baghdad; 140 from political parties; 70 tribal leaders; 170 intellectuals and prominent Iraqi figures; and 100 from the preparatory committee . . .”
The selection process has exercerbated ethnic conflict and inter-party disputes. The site of the 3-day national congress is being kept secret for fear it will be targeted by the resistance to the US occupation and its Iraqi allies.
Muqtada’s group is a major one, and the decision to boycott the national congress is a blow to the legitimacy of the process. He made headlines this weekend by forcefully condemning the beheading of foreign hostages, a practice he said was contrary to Islamic law.