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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The obvious as news

So where's Allawi and Chalabi on that

Radical Cleric Rising as a Kingmaker in Iraqi Politics

Published: February 16, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 15 — Late Saturday night, on the eve of a crucial vote to choose Iraq's next prime minister, a senior Iraqi politician's cellphone rang. A supporter of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr was on the line with a threat.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, center, defeated Adel Abdul Mahdi, left, for prime minister by one vote.

"He said that there's going to be a civil war among the Shia" if Mr. Sadr's preferred candidate was not confirmed, the politician said.

Less than 12 hours later, and after many similar calls to top Shiite leaders, Mr. Sadr got his wish. The widely favored candidate lost by one vote, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim prime minister, was anointed as Iraq's next leader.

"Everyone was stunned; it was a coup d'état," said the politician, a senior member of the main Shiite political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

It was a crowning moment for Mr. Sadr, whose sudden rise to political power poses a stark new set of challenges for Iraq's fledgling democracy. The man who led the Mahdi Army militia's two deadly uprisings against American troops in 2004 now controls 32 seats in Iraq's Parliament, enough to be a kingmaker. He has an Islamist vision of Iraq's future, and is implacably hostile to the Iraqis closest to the United States — the mostly secular Kurds, and Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister.

Mr. Sadr's militia fighters have been quieter since the uprisings, but they are suspected in a range of continuing assassinations and other abuses that American officials have pledged to stop. Mr. Sadr himself was accused by the American of arranging a killing in 2004, though the arrest warrant was quietly dropped.

"It will be harder to take on the Mahdi Army with Jaafari as prime minister," said a Western official in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as interfering in Iraqi politics. "Jaafari could not have been elected without Sadr's support."

In one sense, his participation represents the realization of a central American goal: to bring populist, violent figures — whether Sunni or Shiite — off the battlefield and into democratic politics.

Mr. Sadr's new influence and his populist roots may even help achieve the American goal of a broad-based government that includes all of Iraq's sects and ethnic groups.

American officials have worked especially hard to include the Sunni Arabs, who dominate the insurgency, in the government. And the Sunnis are much closer to Mr. Sadr on some key matters of policy than they are to his Shiite rivals.

Like the Sunnis, Mr. Sadr has said he opposes the creation of semiautonomous regions in Iraq, at least for the moment. He shares the Sunnis' hostility to the American presence, and even sent some of his followers to fight alongside Sunni Arab insurgents in Falluja in 2004.

Sadr is not going to hold his cards forever. He's gonna play them, and a lot more Americans will join those Cav troopers his people killed in 2004.

If he has the power to pick the PM, when is he going to demand US troops leave. People keep talking about SCIRI, but the fact is Sadr has ties to the Sunni guerrillas and they've been kicking SCIRI's ass.

This is the kind of power the US had no clue was coming.

They thought the exiles would matter. Please. Sadr's family survived the worst of Saddam and that gives him the cred no one else has.

Sadr will throw his cards on the table this year.

posted by Steve @ 12:04:00 AM

12:04:00 AM

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