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Interview with Bahaa al-Araji of the United Iraqi Alliance | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Iraqi Shia leader, Muqtada al Sadr, expressed his rejection of sectarian violence in Iraq during a sermon on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr in Najaf. He said, “I totally reject any Shia-Shia or Sunni-Shia killings, whatever their motive.”

AFP reported that the cleric said, “Our only objective in Iraq is to end the US occupation, not to fight one another.” Addressing his supporters at Al Hanana mosque in Najaf, he said, “My only enemy is the occupier and the Nawasib (term used to describe extremist Sunnis). Aggression against any Iraqi is an aggression against me.” Muqtada al Sadr heads the Al Mahdi Army that the Americans hold responsible for much of the sectarian violence, the latest of which has seen violent clashes between elements of this militia and the Iraqi security authorities in Amarah in southern Iraq.

In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Bahaa al Araji, member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives defended Muqtada al Sadr and the al Mahdi Army. He told Asharq Al Awsat, “Act 91 of 2004 stipulating the disbanding of militias was adopted by the Governing Council after the new Iraqi state was established in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein. However, neither the government nor the occupation forces have been serious in this matter. We were surprised to find out that conditions have been imposed on the Maliki government and former governments to disband the militias. We do not disagree as we seek to establish Iraq on genuine institutions but we say that there are three militias in Iraq. These are the Peshmerga in northern Iraq (Kurdistan), the Badr Organization and al Mahdi Army. The Peshmerga has merged into state institutions and this issue has been solved. As for the Badr Organization, as we have heard, it is has become a political organization and is no longer a militia. All these measures are intended to disband the al Mahdi Army. We said that according to international specifications, this army cannot be considered a militia.

The member of the Sadr movement explained, “The al Mahdi Army came into existence in response to the presence of occupation forces in the country and its task is to resist the occupation. It was the first to have confronted the occupation. Also, its members do not wear special uniforms and do not receive salaries or regular financial allocations. What is most important is that a militia is affiliated with a party and the al Mahdi Army is affiliated with the al Sadr movement, which is not a party. The members of al Mahdi Army are employees, soldiers, or policemen in the state.” Al Araji added that the al Mahdi Army is an ideological Islamic army that is guided by a national spirit. “When there is occupation, there is resistance. We have decided that at this time, the resistance should be peaceful, political, and diplomatic because we have joined the political process. This is why al Mahdi Army operations against the occupation have been suspended but this does not mean that these operations have been suspended definitively. The resistance will be ready to operate again when we see that pressure is being put on the Iraqi people. There is a lot of harm being done to the al Mahdi Army as Iraq is an open arena and groups and movements that carry out kidnappings and kill our people attribute such actions to the al Mahdi Army whilst we have nothing to do with them.”

Asked about clashes between members of the al Mahdi Army and members of some armed groups, Al Araji said, “The al Mahdi Army had nothing to do with the incidents in Basra which stemmed from political disagreements in which the Sadr movement was not involved. As for the incidents in Amarah and one month before that in Diwaniyah, these were the result of personal differences and this reflects on the political process. Since our society is a tribal society, these disputes spread quickly.” Al Araji accused the Iranian Mujahideen-e-Khalq opposition movement of involvement in terrorist operations against the Iraqis with support from the US forces, “which established a protected camp for them and supplies them with weapons and other means to carry out terrorist operations that are attributed to al Mahdi Army, noting that this organization is part of the occupation forces as it receives orders from them. The Mujahideen-e-Khalq might also carry out operations against Iran. In the Council of Representatives, we decided to classify this group as a terrorist organization and the government and ourselves believe it must not remain in Iraq; however the occupation insisted on keeping it in Iraq.”

Al Araji stressed that the Sadr movement “resists the occupation peacefully, politically, and diplomatically, adding that the movement did not sign the document on the government’s political program before the government was formed because the program is of a political nature for the government and not for the Iraqi parliament and because this program was drafted by the political blocs as a result of accord and not commitment. Furthermore, from the very beginning, we were against the formation of a national unity government and we said that the occupation had concocted many lies, from democracy to a national unity government. We see that the constitutions of the world and the national and political norms affirm that the major bloc that wins the majority vote is the one that is responsible for forming a government. However, the circumstances that Iraq has experienced have led to the formation of a national unity government, pointing out that the Sunnis were not represented adequately in this government. This means that the Sunni community is the one that is being subjected to unfair treatment the most. The other parties and lists presented weak figures and appointed them as ministers to fail the government. If this government fails, they will say that the coalition (United Iraqi Alliance) has failed in forming a government. This is why we believe that this government is very weak because it is a national unity and quota-sharing government. However, this is not because Nuri al-Maliki is the prime minister as he is a good Islamic and national figure but he was afflicted with this government. We will support him and ask the members of parliament and the presidential bodies to support him for undertaking a major cabinet reshuffle as a way out of this dilemma that Iraq faces.”

Asked about how Muqtada al Sadr deals with the court decision to arrest him for involvement in the killing of Abdul Majid al Khoei in Najaf in 2003, al Araji stated, “This crisis is political. Abdul Majid al Khoei was ready to assume a major role in Iraq. This took place with the emergence of the Sadr movement, and the occupation forces and some sick people sought to kill two birds with one stone. It is for this reason that Muqtada al Sadr or some of his supporters have been accused of killing al Khoei, while he (Sadr) is innocent and has nothing to do with this crime. I will not discuss the incident as you are more familiar with it. Killing the son of a key religious authority is a serious issue for us. There was some confusion, and the occupation forces exploited this issue to put pressure on Muqtada al Sadr.”