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Sadr–Maliki Political Crisis Heats Up - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in the Shi'a holy city of Najaf. (AP Photo/ Alaa Al-Marjani)

Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in the Shi’a holy city of Najaf. (AP Photo/ Alaa Al-Marjani)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The political crisis that has erupted between Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the Sadrist Movement has escalated even further in the wake of controversy over amendments to Iraq’s contentious Justice and Accountability Act, a de-Ba’athification law.

The Sadrist Movement and Prime Minister Maliki have been embroiled in a mounting political crisis that is threatening to topple the Iraqi government. Speaking last month, Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada Al-Sadr issued a strongly-worded statement criticizing the Baghdad government and declaring that “staying in the government is a sin and fatal error.” This comes at a time when Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish political forces continue to boycott cabinet meetings in solidarity with the nation-wide protests that have swept Iraq.

Sadrist–Maliki relations have deteriorated even further in light of the proposed amendments to the de-Ba’athification laws, something that the Sadrist Movement strongly opposes.

State of Law Coalition MP Sami Al-Askari told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This anti-government campaign that is being carried out by the Sadrists today against the backdrop of the adoption of amendments to the Justice and Accountability Act is based on their electoral concerns, and their belief that they can no longer achieve what they wish.”

The Iraqi lawmaker emphasized that the Sadrist Movement is taking “escalatory and self-contradictory positions” against the Maliki government, adding that this is because of the rapidly approaching provincial council elections.

Askari stressed that “all signs indicate that the Sadrists and Moqtada Al-Sadr feel embarrassed about the difficult [electoral] situation that they find themselves in,” adding, “this has pushed them to attempt to use the Justice and Accountability Act as an opportunity to incite the emotions of the street.”

The MP, who is from the State of Law Coalition led by the prime minister, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this issue [amendments to the de-Ba’athification law] does not require all this noise and escalation, particularly as the cabinet put forward these proposed amendments to parliament.”

He added that the proposed amendments had originated from the Iraqi Committee of Five, which includes representatives of all major Iraqi political parties, including the National Alliance.

Askari also emphasized that “these amendments will ensure justice for those who deserve justice,” adding, “so long as the brothers in the Sadrist Movement have a parliamentary bloc, they can vote on this issue and that is the end of the story.”

The State of Law Coalition member poured scorn on the Sadrist Movement’s position on the de-Ba’athification law amendments, saying: “The irony is that Sadr constantly insisted on the necessity of responding to the demands of the protesters, and now when we have a response to one of these demands … he has contradicted himself once more and threatened to withdraw the Sadrist Movement ministers.”

Askari called on Sadr to follow through with his threat to withdraw his movement’s ministers, telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “They are nothing more than hostages for him and they have no authority of their own, so it would be better for him and them to withdraw from the government.”

The Sadrist Movement issued an official statement earlier this week saying that it would not accept being part of a government that includes “Ba’athists, Fedayeen [militants] and terrorists,” calling on all parties to reject the proposed amendments. The statement added, “We are sorry that those who want to remain in power are blinded to what is right and what is wrong.”

As for whether Sadr will fulfill his threat and withdraw his ministers from government, Sadrist MP Jawad Al-Jabouri told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this decision is up to Moqtada Al-Sadr,” adding, “anything is possible in politics, depending on the circumstances.”

As for the contradiction in the Sadrist Movement’s position in terms of supporting the protesters demands, with the exception of the de-Ba’athification law amendment, Jabouri said: “Our position was and remains to stand with the protesters’ rational demands. As for the Justice and Accountability Act, our position—as well as that of the protesters—is for this to be applied justly, not selectively, as is the case today. We have applied for the Justice and Accountability Act to be applied [to everybody], not against simple citizens who are being deprived of their basic rights.”