Secretary of State Condi Rice’s visit to Baghdad for consultations on the US-Iraqi security agreement provoked a demonstration in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, with Sadrist crowds carrying placards warning against US intentions. The Sadrists said that they rejected any security agreement that lacked a specific timetable for US troop withdrawal, and would take up arms against any such treaty. Former Iraqi PM Ibrahim Jaafari, leader of the Reform Movement, supported the criticism and said that the situation in Iraq was getting worse. The demonstration has been reported on the Iraq page in the Arab newspapers I looked at, but the demonstration appears to have been completely ignored by all English-language news services.
Ignoring the demonstration is an error. Najaf, the seat of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is driving a lot of the negotiating positions of the al-Maliki government, including the demand for a withdrawal timetable. Some call Najaf Iraq’s shadow capital.
The raid on Diyala provincial government offices earlier this week by an Iraqi special forces unit is now being called a rogue operation by the al-Maliki government, according to McClatchy. A provincial council member and the president of the university were arrested, and the personal secretary of the governor was killed in the operation. The former two are Sunni Arabs, and the provincial council member was coordinating between the Diyala government and the US-backed Sunni Awakening Councils. The special forces unit was an emergency response unit that reports directly to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but his office is saying he did not authorize the raid on Baquba. Sunni politicians say it is not credible that the unit should have acted without al-Maliki’s knowledge or command.
Speculation: The unit is from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, trained in Iran. ISCI controls Diyala politically even though the Shiites are a minority there. They are threatened by the Awakening Councils, full of Sunni guerrillas whom they had earlier been fighting (and maybe still are fighting). So the ERU hits them, trying to cripple them through key arrests. The governor of Diyala is Badr, however, and when his secretary was killed, the operation went bad, and so al-Maliki had to disavow it.
McClatchy quotes a source acknowledging that al-Maliki is not asserting central government control in Basra, Amara, Sadr City, Mosul and Diyala out of altruism, but is rather attempting to ensure that these areas vote for him or his allies when the provincial elections are held.
Saad al-Hashemi has been convicted in absentia of ordering the hit, while a government minister on two sons of MP Mithal al-Alusi. Hashemi is a member of the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalist). Alusi angered Iraqi political parties by visiting Israel. Al-Hashemi is in hiding abroad. Critics of the trial say he should not have been tried and convicted in absentia.
Aides to Muqtada al-Sadr say he will pursue his theological and legal studies in Qom for the next five years, visiting Iraq occasionally. Vali Nasr suggests that he is a virtual hostage of Iran, which is gradually assuming control of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. It is likely that al-Sadr’s truce with the US military, begun last September, was forced on him by Iran, which viewed the militia as a provocation of the US and a pretext for American troops to stay in Iraq.