Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Al-Sadr's office denies responsibility for governors assassinations

Security, Politics
(AP) - Muqtada al-Sadr's office on Tuesday condemned the assassinations of two southern provincial governors in an apparent bid by the radical Shiite cleric to distance himself from a brutal contest among rival Shiite militias for control of some of Iraq's main oil regions.
Iraqi police had blamed Monday's roadside bombing that killed the governor of the vast Muthanna province on the powerful Mahdi Army, which is nominally loyal to al-Sadr but has seen factions splinter away over frustration with U.S. raids targeting the militia that has been blamed for much of the sectarian violence in recent months.
The attacks that killed Gov. Mohammed Ali al-Hassani and his colleague Gov. Khalil Jalil Hamza in neighboring Qadasiyah province nine days earlier raised fears that showdowns in southern Iraq — pitting Mahdi groups against the mainstream Shiite group in parliament — could intensify as the British forces overseeing the south gradually withdraw in the coming months.
Both governors were members of a powerhouse among Shiite political organizations, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. His loyalists, who dominate the police in the south of Iraq, have been fighting Mahdi Army militiamen for dominance in the south — which may hold 70 percent or more of Iraq's oil reserves, according to various estimates.
The reclusive cleric issued a statement late Monday praising efforts against the foreign forces but condemning the attacks against the Shiite governors, which he said were aimed at creating a rift among Iraq's majority Islamic sect. "The cruel deeds that have been done in Diwaniyah and Samawah are part of occupation plots that aim to create a climate of pretexts for them to stay in Iraq," al-Sadr said, using the term occupation to refer to U.S.-led forces.
He also called for committees comprising political and social authorities to be established under religious supervision in each of Iraq's 18 provinces "so that these events would not repeated in the south or in any part of Iraq." Al-Sadr also renewed his demand for a timetable to be set for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led troops. His office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, was more direct in its denial.
"We don't have any relation with these acts or have any involvement, we condemn such acts that aim at destabilizing the situation in the center and southern Iraq," al-Sadr's spokesman Ahmed al-Shibani said Tueday.
Just a few months ago, the Mahdi Army and its leader, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were seen as reluctant — but critical — partners with Iraq's leadership. Al-Sadr agreed to government appeals to lessen his anti-American fervor and not directly challenge the waves of U.S. soldiers trying to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas.
But now, the once-cohesive ranks of the Mahdi Army are splintering into rival factions with widely varying priorities.

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