Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani put pressure Saturday on the United Iraqi Alliance to maintain its unity and to speed up the formation of a new government.
Intrepid PBS reporter Elizabeth Farnsworth of the Lehrer Hour did a piece from Qom this week about the influence of Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Iran, via his Qom HQ (which has adopted a high tech digitalization project).
In Iraq, the Shiite religious coalition, which had 140 members and had attracted a further 8 independents, lost two MPs on Friday. Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, the “Prince of the Marshes” and leader of the Marsh Arab party, Hizbullah, withdrew, as did a member of the Iraqi National Coalition. Because the UIA has the support of 3 Turkmen, 3 Sadrist and the one Islamic Action Organization members of parliament, the defection of these two MPs does not affect its ability to put together a simple majority in parliamentary votes (see Andrew Arato’s posting below). It is also a little unlikely that al-Muhammadawi would actually vote against the religious Shiite parties, so it is unclear what his defection would mean in practice.
Many in the Iraqi public are angry that the parliament they elected has still not held its first meeting, and that no government has yet emerged. The main sticking points have to do with Kurdish demands for semi-autonomy, and for control of the oil city of Kirkuk in the north.
Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a member of the UIA, said that it had set a March 15 deadline for convening parliament, regardless of whether a government had been formed by then.
A prominent Sadrist preacher was assassinated on Friday, Shaikh Saad Kamil, in Sadr City. Likewise a relief aid official was killed in Baghdad.
Some of the more raw sentiments of Shiites about the Kurdish demands, and attitudes to the secular parties, can be seen in the Iraqi press:
BBC World Monitoring, March 3 2005, Iraqi Press Highlights, reports:
. . . Al-Hawza carries on page 1 a 1,000-word editorial criticizing the Kurds for “extorting” other political parties to get hold of Kirkuk and the presidential post. The author says that the Kurds are “parasites,” using Iraq as a “host” to build their own region, with the aid of Israel.
. . . Al-Hawza runs on page 2 a 700-word article to be continued in the upcoming issues by Taha Hamzah al-Wa’ili, who criticizes a number of satellite TV channels, including Al-Jazeera, Al-Hurrah, and Al-Furat, for “attempting to destroy the human character of Iraqis, picturing Islam as unable to establish a successful state, and preparing for sectarian strife in Iraq.”
. . . Ansar al-Mahdi runs on page 6 an 800-word article by Ruqayyah Ibrahim criticizing the Iraqi communist feminist Yanar Ahmad for “propagandizing the lewdness and corruption of the West in Iraq.
Other BBC monitoring reports give us a window on the religious-Shiite view of Lebanon and other issues:
Ansar al-Mahdi carries on page 1 a 500-word editorial by Chief Editor Al-Hajj Salam Salih, commenting on the Lebanese “crisis” and the “role” of Hezbollah and the Islamic resistance in “keeping the Lebanese national unity.” The writer says that Lebanon is facing a “conspiracy,” which aims at making the country a land of “political and sectarian strife, instead of being the leader in the struggle with Israel.” . . . Ansar al-Mahdi publishes on page 2 a 1,200-word article by Ruqayyah Ibrahim, commenting on the “colour revolutions” that took place in some countries, like “the orange revolution in the Ukraine, the pink revolution in Georgia, the purple revolution in Iraq, and the white-and-red revolution in Lebanon.” The author says that these “sham revolutions” are forged by the US Administration, which “makes use of the silent majority that crave for personal benefit to alienate the loyal and politically active people.”