The USG Open Source Center translates an article from the Iraqi newspaper “Ilaf,” on planned housekeeping inside the Sadr Movement, in which leaders plan to purge hundreds of alleged rogue elements from the paramilitary Mahdi Army. Sadrist leader Baha’ al-A’raji also called for electoral reform and rejected an Iranian plan to have Iranian troops replace American ones in Iraq. (The Sadrists are Iraqi nativists and usually have bad to indifferent relations with Iran). Excerpts below (emphases added):
‘Al-Sadr Trend MP on Plans To ‘Expel Hundreds From Al-Mahdi Army,’ Iranian Role
Report on interview with Iraqi MP Baha al-A’raji, a leader in the Al-Sadr Trend, by Usamah Mahdi, from London; place, date not given: “Iraqi MP Baha al-A’raji, Leader in Al-Sadr Trend, Tells Ilaf: We Will Expel Hundreds From Al-Mahdi Army, And We Reject Sending Iranian Forces”
Friday, November 23, 2007 . . .
Iraqi MP Baha al-A’raji, a leader in the Al-Sadr Trend, led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has announced that preparations are under way to expel hundreds of the offending members of Al-Mahdi Army. He said that the Trend supports dissolving the Council of Representatives and will work for achieving this. He noted that a national plan about the Iraqi situation is being prepared. He strongly rejected sending Iranian forces to Iraq to replace the Multinational Forces. Al-A’raji, who is chairman of the Legal Committee at the Council of Representatives, made these remarks in an interview with Ilaf.
On the Al-Sadr Trend’s withdrawal of its six ministers from the government, he said that the cabinet, in its current composition, was imposed on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki because of the sectarian and partisan allotment of shares and that the Iraqi people has paid the price for this. He added that the Trend has authorized Al-Maliki to appoint technocratic and independent ministers instead of its withdrawing ministers, away from sectarianism. . .
Effectiveness of Agreement Between Al-Sadr Trend and Supreme Council
On the effectiveness of the agreement signed between the Al-Sadr Trend and the (Iraqi) Islamic Supreme Council (IISC) [ed. note: IC calls it the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq with the acronym ISCI, in accordance with the organization’s own preference] in ending the clashes between the armed men of the two sides, Al-A’raji said that this depends on the seriousness of the two sides because it was a Sharia-based, religious agreement to prohibit the shedding of Iraqi blood, through forming joint committees in the governorates that seek to activate and implement it. He said that the governorates’ councils are the main obstacle to activating this agreement. The Al-Sadr Trend did not participate in the previous elections of these councils. The law on these elections has led to the election of persons who are unable to provide the services needed by the citizens, and so the members of these councils have made big mistakes. While the membership of these councils is controlled by the IISC and the Badr Organization, the Al-Sadr Trend has masses in these governorates, and these masses demand achievements through providing essential services for the citizens. Therefore, tension and friction have occurred between the officials at the councils and the citizens, who demand their right to these essential, vital services. He noted that the elections law (on governorates’ councils) should be amended so that election will be on an individual basis, and not on the basis of lists. The purpose of this is to elect specialists, engineers, and technicians, who are able to meet the needs of citizens, to the governorates’ councils.
Elections of Governorates’ Councils and Fears of Shiite-Shiite Fighting
On whether he believes that the upcoming elections of governorates’ councils will lead to Shiite-Shiite fighting between the supporters of Al-Sadr Trend and the IISC, Al-A’raji said that in order to avert this fighting, it is important to issue the new law on the elections of governorates’ councils to organize the electoral process. He added that it is possible to avert such fighting if this electoral process is conducted on a legal basis. He, however, warned that the situation will become tense if the elections are held based on the old law. Hence, the danger of closed election lists and the need for open lists. Al-A’raji added that he himself was elected member of the Council of Representatives for the southern governorate of Dhi Qar because of the closed lists, although he has only visited this governorate two times in his lifetime and after he was elected.
Restructuring Al-Mahdi Army and Expelling Hundreds of Its Members
In reply to a question about the measures that have been taken to implement Al-Sadr’s decision restructuring Al-Mahdi Army, the leader in the Al-Sadr Trend noted that the organization of this army is not subject to records or documents. Therefore, some (political) parties and external sides, including the intelligence services of many countries, have pushed many persons to join this army and engage in practices that offend it. He said that this army is ideological and it pursues a national Islamic line. However, the practices of some of its members are inconsistent with this line. Hence, Al-Sadr’s decision freezing the army in order to give its leaders the chance to closely examine the actions of those (members). He said that the Trend has formed committees, which are currently examining the practices of many of the offending members. The committees will issue lists of hundreds of the army members who will be expelled. He noted that these offending members constitute a strong line, have extensions, and receive internal and external assistance, in which some neighboring countries, which do not want anything for the good of Iraq, are involved.
On the number of the members of Al-Mahdi Army, he said that there is no exact figure because it is not a regular army and it does not have records that document the number of its members. He, however, noted that around 60 percent of males in the southern governorates, who are aged between 18-40 years, are members in Al-Mahdi Army.
Iran and Its Armament Ties With Al-Mahdi Army
In reply to a question about the armament relationship between Iran and Al-Mahdi Army, supplying it with (armor-) piercing explosives, and recruiting a number of its members, Al-A’raji stressed that there is no relationship between the Sadrist line and Iran. He said that the proof of this is that there is an ideological disagreement between martyr Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, father of Muqtada, and the religious authority and scholars in Iran. He noted that this disagreement is documented through the fatwas (religious rulings) issued by the two sides.
He said that Iran is a neighboring and Muslim country and Al-Sadr Trend is a religious line. Hence, the closeness between the two sides. However, the Trend rejects any action, which harms Iraq and helps fragment it, by any country. He pointed out that the problem in Iraq is the Iranian-US conflict, since Iran is afraid of the Americans after they became its neighbors through the presence of their forces in Iraq in a way that shifts the conflict of the two sides to Iraq. He added that amidst this conflict, the Iranians may have managed to recruit offending members of Al-Mahdi Army and armed them to use them in armed operations against the Americans.
Al-Sadr Trend’s Position on Constitutional Article 140 on Kirkuk
On Al-Sadr Trend’s position on the non- implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution on Kirkuk, given that the fixed period for this will expire at the end of this year, Al-A’raji said that this article is constitutional and it should be handled accordingly and away from political stands. He, however, noted that what is happening now is the opposite. The political forces are acting toward this article based on a nationalist and political principle, and this is a big mistake. He noted that this article was based on three foundations; namely, normalization, census, and referendum. If the first two are implemented in a legal and constitutional manner, there is no objection to holding the referendum. Otherwise, the Trend will have reservations.
On Al-Sadr Trend’s position on annexing Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region, Al-A’raji said that the Trend believes that the Iraqis are the ones who decide this. He added that if the first two steps (normalization and census) are legal, the referendum (result) will run counter to all expectations, without explaining what he means by this.
Al-Sadr Trend’s Position on Dissolving Parliament
On Al-Sadr Trend’s position on what was raised recently at a session of the Council (of Representatives) about dissolving it, Al-A’raji said that the idea of dissolving it is good, provided that it will be preceded by enacting a new elections law, which can correct the mistakes of the political process. He added that some parties reject dissolving the parliament, but the Trend will continue to demand dissolving it.
The Blocs Withdrawing From the Government and Forming Unified Front
In reply to a question about whether the political blocs, which have withdrawn from the government, plan to form a unified front, the leader in the Al-Sadr Trend said: Yes, there are plans to form an opposition front or group. There are several plans in this respect.
He said that the Trend will present a national plan before the end of next month. This plan is currently under study by the leader of the Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, and his assistants. The plan stresses the need to form Iraqi governments away from sectarian or partisan allotment of shares. It also stresses the need to enforce many articles of the constitution and form committees among the political forces that work for building establishments for the state. He said that the plan focuses on the need to achieve openness on the Arab and regional countries. He noted that Iraq is made up of a Shiite majority in the middle of a Sunni environment, which is afraid of ruling it by the Shiites. Therefore, it is important to open up to this environment, reassure it, and acquaint it with the truth of the Shiites and that they are Arabs, and not Persians, as some people describe them.
On the date of announcing this national plan, Al-A’raji said that it will be announced before the end of next month from the Council of Representatives or from Al-Najaf, where the headquarters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Trend, are located.
Asked if forming a non-sectarian or non-partisan government, as stipulated in the plan, means changing the current government, Al-A’raji said that it does not necessarily mean this, but it is possible to reshuffle this government and appoint competent, independent ministers, who are not affiliated with parties.
Rejecting Iranian Proposal on Replacing the Foreign Forces With Iranian and Arab Forces
In reply to a question about the Trend’s position on the Iranian Government’s proposal for replacing the Multinational Forces in Iraq with Iranian and Arab forces, including Syrian forces, Baha al-A’raji, a leader in the Al-Sadr Trend, said that the Trend wants a free Iraq. Consequently, it rejects occupation, just as it rejects interference in the affairs of Iraq by any country, even if it is close to the Trend’s inclinations concerning the Iraqi issue. He added that implementing the Iranian proposal will make the fire in Iraq more intense than it is now, because the Iranians will have an important role in a certain place and the Syrians will have an important role in another place, and the fighting will be fiercer and more harmful. He said that it is important to seek to liberate Iraq and run its affairs by the Iraqis themselves; therefore, “we do not support the Iranian call at all.” ‘
(Description of Source: London Ilaf WWW-Text in Arabic — London Internet daily providing independent coverage of Arab and international issues. URL: Elaph.com)