Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Iraqi parliament held its first normal session with a full quorum yesterday in the shadow of widespread protests that represent the worst crisis facing the country since 2003. This resulted in fisticuffs breaking out between 4 MPs belonging to the Iraqi Shia National Alliance.
The Iraqi Shia National Alliance is the largest parliamentary bloc with 159 members and is comprised of the National Alliance, the State of Law party led by Nuri al-Maliki, the Sadrist trend led by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Islamic Supreme Council led by Ammar al-Hakim, the Islamic Virtue party led by Mohamed Yaqubi, Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi and the National Reform Trend led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
The scuffle broke out between MPs Adi Awwad and Ali al-Tamimi of the Sadrist trend and State of Law MPs Ali al-Shalah and Kamal al-Saadi against the backdrop of a proposal put forward by the Iraqiya bloc to form a parliamentary committee to investigate statements issued by Iraqiya bloc MP Ahmed al-Alwani. Al-Alwani has been accused of making derogatory remarks about Iraq’s Shiite community, reportedly describing them as “agents of Iran”. The proposal was approved by parliament, with the Sadrist trend voting yes, whilst the State of Law coalition bloc voted no. This led to a verbal argument breaking out between the four MPs that ended with a physical altercation between MPs from the Sadrist trend and State of Law coalition. Following this altercation, Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi took the decision to postpone the parliamentary session for one hour.
The Iraqiya bloc had issued an official request to the parliamentary speaker to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the statements made by MP Ahmed al-Alwani against the Shiites. During a press conference following the parliamentary session, Iraqiya parliamentary bloc head Salman al-Jamili said “if what he said is proven then the bloc will take the appropriate action against him whilst if the opposite is proven then we will take his accuser to court.”
In the meantime, ministers belonging to both the Iraqiya bloc – led by Iyad Allawi – and the Kurdistan Alliance boycotted the cabinet meeting yesterday to demonstrate their support for the anti-government demonstrations that have struck the country. The Kurdistan Alliance also took the decision to form a committee to investigate the protesters demands in the northern and western provinces.
For its part, the Iraqi government announced that it had taken the decision “to form a ministerial committee headed by the deputy prime minister and comprised of the Ministers of Justice, Defense, Human Rights, Water Resources, Municipalities, Public Works, State Affairs and the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers and deputy Interior Minister.”
In addition to this, a statement issued by the Council of Ministers, which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of, asserted that this ministerial committee’s missions will be to “receive the requests of the legitimate demonstrators which are not inconsistent with the constitution…and submit recommendations and specific proposals to the Council of Ministers.”
Over the course of the past two weeks, thousands of Iraqi demonstrators have taken to the street, blocking a key highway in Iraq’s Sunni provinces in protest to al-Maliki’s government. In a rival demonstration in support of al-Maliki, approximately 7,000 protesters marched in the southern cities of Basra and Karbala, waving portraits of the Iraqi premier and banners supporting the Shiite parties in his coalition.
For his part, Sheikh Said al-Lafi, spokesman for the Anbar sit-in, stressed that “our sit-in will continue until our legitimate demands are met and we do not have any specific time-frame for this sit-in, therefore we are moving forward in this regard until the government responds to us.”
He added “the central government has to learn that our options are open and the sit-in will continue despite all the attempts from different parties, including governmental and political parties.”