Basra Governor Dismissed
Fadhila Brands al-Maliki Gov. “the New Baath”
Sunnis Complain about “Threats”
The Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Iraqi Accord Front, traded insults on Saturday with the al-Maliki government. In the wake of its suspension of participation in the government on Wednesday, al-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Dabbagh made a statement that the Sunnis are interpreting as threatening and coercive, according to al-Hayat writing in Arabic. He say that political adventurism might lead into dangers that would be fruitless for everyone.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has fired Basra governor Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili of the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila). I had summarized Arabic newspaper reports on April 30 about the vote of no-confidence brought against the governor by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. There are 41 seats on the Basra governing council, which was elected in January, 2005. SIIC has 20 seats. Fadhila or Virtue had about 15, but was able to convince 6 independents to vote with it, thus creating a Virtue-dominated provincial administration.
In March, the Islamic Virtue Party pulled out of the [Shiite] United Iraqi Alliance coalition in the federal government, in which it had been allotted 15 seats. In part they were protesting their loss of the petroleum ministry portfolio, which had gone to the Supreme Council. They had had that ministry under the previous prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, and since Basra is the big oil refining city, their control of both allowed for downward integration (their critics accused Fadhila of embezzling gasoline to support their party and militia). In reaction against the defection of the Islamic Virtue Party from the UIA, the Supreme Council appears to have decided to attract the loyalty of a few of the independents and to unseat al-Wa’ili. In this goal they succceeded. Al-Wa’ili then appealed to al-Maliki to adjudicate the dispute. The decision announced late Saturday appears to have been al-Maliki’s response to the appeal. He seems to have put off the decision until parliament was on the cusp of its August recess, perhaps as a way of limiting the political response and fall-out.
The Islamic Virtue Party in Basra rejected the prime minister’s decision, calling it part of a campaign of defamation against the party in the wake of its break with the ruling United Iraqi Alliance. Party leaders said that the al-Maliki government “has lost its legimitacy” and branded it “the New Baath.”
Al-Maliki’s letter noted that the Basra governing council conducted a vote of no confidence against al-Wa’ili, and that it had the right to do so under the Bremer Laws. The letter said that it was incumbent on the council now to elect a new governor.
The Islamic Virtue Party is appealing to the constitutional court. Its deputy leader warned that demonstrations could roil the city and that they could turn bloody.
Basra appears to have been without a functioning government since the beginning of May, and now may be paralyzed by faction fighting over al-Wa’ili’s dismissal.
All this is inconvenient to the British, who would like to turn security duties in the province over to the local government by the end of 2007.
Basra is Iraq’s major export port, and it is from there that the country exports 1.8 million barrels a day of petroleum. If social order there collapses, it could make it difficult for the federal government in Baghdad to function either, since it depends on the proceeds from petroleum sales.
Some 20 bodies were found dead in the streets of Baghdad on Saturday. Guerrillas dressed as women attacked a Kurdish police checkpoint and killed 3 policemen. There were bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad.