al-A`raji: Arbitrary Arrests Continue (OSC)

The USG Open Source Center translates a discussion by Iraqis about Muqtada al-Sadr’s ceasefire with the government of PM Nuri al-Maliki, carried in Arabic on the Iranian al-Alam satellite channel.

‘Iran: Al-Alam TV’s ‘With the Event’ Program on Iraq, Al-Sadr Trend
Al-Alam Television
Monday, March 31, 2008
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic at 1730 GMT on 31 March broadcast its “With the Event” program which focused on confrontations between the Iraqi government forces and the Mahdi Army in Basra, Baghdad and elsewhere in southern Iraq. It discussed a recent call by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt “armed manifestations,” the situation on the ground, the government’s intent and the Al-Sadr trend’s take on the course of events. The program hosted Falih al-Fayyad, United Iraqi Alliance MP, in the studio, Hazim al-A’raji, head of Al-Sadr trend social body, via phone from Al-Najaf and Qays al-Azzawi, Iraqi analyst, via phone from Paris.

The TV presenter started the debate with a review of Al-Sadr’s statement regarding the halt of armed manifestations and the government’s statement in response.

Views on the fighting and whether it has come to an end following Al-Sadr’s call varied. Al-Fayyad said yesterday and today’s news signal a “major breakthrough and a recession in violence and clashes” in Basra and other Iraqi provinces. Proof was the lifting of curfew in several areas, he said. Nevertheless, Fayyad urged both parties, the government and the Al-Sadr trend, to honor their agreement so that “we can get out of a crisis that no one is keen on.”

Al-A’raji, for his part, stressed that the situation on the ground did not reflect the agreement reached between the government and the Al-Sadr trend. He said arbitrary arrests were still taking place against the Sadrists and houses continued to be burned, noting that that was a “violation of the agreement.” Al-A’raji criticized the government’s “double-standards” as politicians say one thing and the military commanders say another. A’raji also confirmed that weapons were now in the hands of the government as supporters of Al-Sadr heeded the cleric’s call.

Fayyad said he thought Al-Sadr’s call was “effective” and that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s response was “candid.” He also thought that the ongoing sporadic clashes would take few days to clear up. He urged the Iraqi government to offer the Sadrists “reassurances” and urged the Sadrists to help the government enforce the rule of law. He went on to urge both parties to exercise self-restraint.

Al-Azzawi said he thought the agreement was successful in the sense that there was “less violence” and that the “political rhetoric” was “less violent.” He hailed Al-Sadr’s call and Al-Maliki’s response, urging an end to the bloodshed.

On Al-Sadr trend’s refusal to disarm, Al-A’raji said weapons would be handed over to the government when the “occupation” had ceased to exist. He said the government must be pleased with the trend’s “resistance” against the “occupation.”

Asked if Al-Maliki was pressured to fight the Sadrists, Fayyad said the premier was bound by the constitution. However, the presence of the occupation, amongst other security-related issues, restrained him, he added.

Asked if the occupation had a role in sowing discord, Al-Azzawi said the US had backed sectarianism. He said the political process must be revisited, noting there was no unified plan of action.

Asked if the fighting was linked to the governorate councils elections, Al-A’raji said Muqtada Al-Sadr, in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV well before the fighting, had stressed that the Sadrists were not running in any elections.

On whether Al-Maliki was under pressure to launch an assault on the Sadrists, Al-A’raji said that there were parties that sought to control the south, reminding them that the Sadrists would be there to face them.

Asked if Al-Maliki would come back to Baghdad, Fayyad said he could not answer the question.

(Description of Source: Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic — IRIB’s 24-hour Arabic news channel, targetting a pan-Arab audience) ‘

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