New blow to faltering Iraq political process

The movement of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Saturday it would withdraw from the Shi’ite bloc that leads the Iraqi government, in a new blow to the faltering political process.

“The Sadr bloc will hold a press conference in Najaf this evening [Saturday] where it will announce its decision to withdraw from the Shi’ite alliance,” Sadr spokesperson Saleh al-Obeidi said.

The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) initially comprised four key Shi’ite factions—the Sadr group, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council of Iraq (SIIC), the Dawa party and the Fadhila party—and held 130 seats in the 275-member Parliament.

However, the number dropped to 115 when the Fadhila party pulled out in March.

The Sadr bloc has 32 seats in Parliament.

Obeidi last week told Agence France-Press the bloc was considering withdrawing from the bloc as the SIIC and Maliki’s Dawa had formed another alliance with two Kurdish groups.

“On the one hand they are taking decisions in the bloc, but on the other hand they are plotting another alliance,” said Obeidi.

The Sadr group has already withdrawn its six ministers from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government, saying Baghdad had failed to provide basic services to the people.

On Saturday, Obeidi said the Sadr group was now planning to negotiate with the Fadhila party for a possible “future together”.

When it pulled its MPs out of the main Shi’ite bloc six months ago, the Fadhila party accused its allies of sectarianism.

The Shi’ite Islamist group said the division of Iraq’s parties into opposing blocs based on religion had worsened relations between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Iraq’s fractious government is made up of ministers from both sides of the sectarian divide but there are frequent rows between Sunni and Shi’ite leaders and it has difficulty governing.

Maliki has said he will announce a Cabinet reshuffle but has so far not been able to fill the vacant seats left by the Sunni and Shi’ite ministers.

He is currently running the government with only 23 ministers out of an original 40.

On August 27, the SIIC, the Dawa party and two Kurdish groups squeezed out a broadbrush deal aimed at bridging the sectarian divide under mounting pressure from Washington.

The leaders agreed to ease restrictions on former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath party taking up government jobs, to hold provincial elections—a key demand of Washington—and to help the security forces to rein in sectarian unrest.—AFP

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