On April 5, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr dismissed two his group’s representatives in the Iraqi Parliament for conducting talks with the U.S. occupiers. Two days later, he dismissed the rest.
[Editor’s Note: The way the electoral system works in Iraq is that people vote for parties – and then the party leadership chooses the MPs – and has the right to dismiss them].
On April 5, Abdulhadi al-Mutairi, a senior aid to Sadr, said, “The movement has sacked two members of Parliament, Salam al-Maliki, (also a former transport minister) and Qusay Abdulwahab, who held talks with Americans two days ago.”
The dismissals signal that the group is divided with regard to its attitude toward the presence of foreign troops. It also shows that the movement and its leader strongly oppose talking to foreign forces or their representatives in the country.
Mutairi said the decision to fire the two representatives was take by Sadr himself and that the meeting by representatives with the Americans goes against the, “principles that the Sadr movement strongly adheres to.”
Then on April 7, Sadr dismissed the rest of his MPs, bringing the number to 35. The group had comprised about a third of the ruling Shiite coalition. The dismissals, if confirmed, will be a blow to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki’s government is already under immense pressure, as smaller blocs in Parliament are trying to form a new coalition with the explicit aim of toppling him. So if Sadr withdraws his support, Maliki’s government will be in a very precarious situation.
The move by Sadr came after an attack was launched by U.S. and Iraqi troops on one of his major strongholds in the southern city of Diwaniya, a city 180 kilometers south of Baghdad.
In Diwaniya, members of Mahdi Army have reportedly opted not to fight the Americans as they did in two previous major uprisings – one in Baghdad and the other in the Holy City of Najaf.
It’s not clear why the American started this move against Sadr and his powerful Mahdi Army, since many of Sadr’s armed men are said to have left the city quietly before the U.S.-run operation began. But some analysts say that the city remains a major base for Sadr and that many of his commanders had taken refuge there to avoid direct contact with American troops striving to quell the violence on the streets of Baghdad.
Nevertheless, Sadr’s influence continues to be felt in Baghdad, particularly in the townships of Shuala and Sadr City where nearly three million of Baghdad’s six million people live.
Sadr’s group is a major rival to the Badr forces, a militia group run by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI, which is currently an ally of U.S. forces and the Maliki government. Sadr aides say the attack on their bastion in Diwaniya was aimed to curtail their influence and presence in southern Iraq.