After a varied series of statements criticizing the performance of the Iraqi government, the American occupation of Iraq and the threats about walking out of the political coalition formed by the government (the last one was fulfilled by the young Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr); The Sadr movement announced the withdrawal of its six cabinet ministers from the government citing the reason as, “the lack of the Iraqi government’s commitment to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.”
But what was more astonishing was Nouri al Maliki’s (the Iraqi Prime Minister) reaction; he welcomed the withdrawal, raising questions and eliciting surprise. Even more astounding was what followed: Muqtada al Sadr demanded that the ministers be replaced by “six competent, independent ministers who are not affiliated to the Sadr bloc or any other political force.”
Many believe there is an ‘arrangement’ and coordination between the Sadr movement and the government regarding this recent event, the purpose of which is to dispel the awkwardness and lift the restrictions off the government’s shoulders so that it does not continue to be classified as a government that favors one sect.
Muqtada al Sadr’s recent maneuvers might help in deciphering the talismans of the anticipated and impending political stage in Iraq. His movements included a perplexing ‘disappearance’, news of his ‘arrival’ in Iran and his ‘return’, his relentless criticism of the US occupation, his active participation to fighting and resistance, and finally his peaceful demonstrations that begun in the southern region of Iraq calling for the necessity of America’s withdrawal. However, due to the significance of the south and the imminence of British withdrawal from the southern Iraqi provinces (which is very likely in the case that British Prime Minister Tony Blair will leave office and in light of continuous and increasing pressure from British public opinion), it may be “natural” that the south becomes a safe and isolated area under the control of a unified central authority, similar to the current situation in Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
There are real changes in Iraq, however, the features of which are unclear and the trends of which are unknown, therefore it is fertile ground to test the waters and to conduct other experiments. The benefits and elements that distinguish and enrich Iraq, including ethnic, racial, cultural, intellectual and religious diversity are being used and inflamed to ignite division and disunity. The biggest religious and political leaders are now asked more than ever before to maintain and protect what remains of “national” Iraqi sects and to focus on the bigger picture since everyone is susceptible to disunity and fragmentation regardless of what is said or promoted regarding elements of cohesion and unity. Muqtada al Sadr is at a historical turning point, and upon him is an exceptional responsibility to transfer the traditional discourse of religious leaders from the state of disunity and sectarianism to the state of law and the nation and there is great difference between the two. Iraq deserves a sincere and serious stand of this kind.