Sectarian fighting intensified in Iraq on Thursday. -- The Mahdi Army of anti-federalist Moqtada al-Sadr, who has sympathized more with the Sunni resistance than any other major Iraqi political figure and who must consider himself a possible future 'savior' of Iraq as a nation once the U.S. forces leave, appears to be under attack from the Badr Brigade, which is aligned with the pro-federalist (and pro-Iranian) SCIRI party. -- The Guardian (UK) reported that Sadr's offices had been attacked in Najaf, Diwaniya, and a Baghdad suburb, and that SCIRI offices had been destroyed in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army's power base. -- Meanwhile, Reuters reported that government spokesman Laith Kubba took the novel position that after "adjustments" the draft constitution would be "adopted" without any need for a vote. -- This is an obvious attempt to disguise the fact that the constitution is uniformly opposed by Iraq's Sunnis, who make up about 20% of the population. -- With Sunnis now mobilizing, the defeat of the constitution can be taken as a foregone conclusion, which means "another year of provisional rule," Reuters noted. -- This is an opportune time to recall that on May 31, the Guardian reported that "'The Shia may accept the break-up of Iraq as the price of a Shia-dominated Arab state,' said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador with close ties to the Kurds, estimating Iraq may hold together for five more years." -- At this point, as the Bush administration scenario for peaceable transfer of "legitimate" authority to an Iraqi government with a new constitution crashes and burns, it seems increasingly clear that the only thing holding Iraq together is the force of the U.S. military, together with the mercenary forces of private military firms....
SHIA RIVALS CONTINUE VIOLENT CLASHES
August 25, 2005
Clashes between rival Shia Muslim groups in Iraq today continued for a second day as a spate of violence swept the country.
After conflicts between rival Shia factions broke out, the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr today called on his followers to end their disputes.
His office in Najaf was burned down and at least four of his supporters killed in clashes yesterday.
Elsewhere today, unknown gunmen fired on a convoy of cars belonging the Iraqi president, killing eight bodyguards and wounding 15 others. The president was not travelling in the convoy.
In the south of Baghdad, police discovered the bodies of 36 men, all of whom had been shot in the head. The bodies were not fully clothed, said police lieutenant Abbas al-Shammari.
The road leading to Badrah, a town near the Iranian border, is in an area known for killings in conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Mr. al-Shammari said it was not clear whether the deaths had been the result of sectarian battles.
The Shia clashes began yesterday when Mr. Sadr's supporters attempted to reopen his office across the street from the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, the most sacred Shia shrine in Iraq.
Rivals attempted to stop the move, fights broke out and the office was set on fire. At least six people were killed and dozens wounded, according to hospital staff.
Armed attacks against offices of Mr. Sadr's movement and the opposing Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq spread across the Shia heartland of central and southern Iraq.
The cleric's supporters in Diwaniya, 170km (105 miles) south of Baghdad, occupied parts of the city, setting up checkpoints and firing on police and rival groups, police captain Hussein Hakim said.
SCIRI members then torched a building belonging to Mr. Sadr's movement in the Baghdad suburb of Nahrawan, police lieutenant Ayad Othman said.
In retaliation, the cleric's followers set fire to an office of SCIRI's Badr Brigade militia in Baghdad's heavily Shia Sadr City neighborhood.
Clashes were also breaking out in Amara, where Mr. Sadr's militiamen attacked the headquarters of the Badr group with mortars. Five attackers and one police officer were killed, Mr. Sadr's officials claimed.
In Basra, the country's second largest city, armed clashes broke out before dawn today, but the city settled down after daybreak, police and residents said.
Mr. Sadr has publicly criticised Iraq's draft constitution, saying it does not go far enough to punish the supporters of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.
He is also supporting the Sunni Muslims by taking a stand against federalism, fearing it will break up Iraq.
The ruling Shia and Kurd coalition submitted a draft constitution to parliament on Monday night, but voting on the document was delayed until today after Sunnis protested that they had been left out of the negotiating process and disagreed with the issue of federalism.
The Pentagon announced today that it was sending an extra 1,500 troops to Iraq in the next few weeks, with the intention being to strengthen security during the October referendum on the new constitution and elections in December.
However, there was confusion this afternoon over whether the constitution had been agreed on as conflicting accounts emerged from parliament.
A government spokesman, Laith Kubba, said a final version of the delayed document had been completed and would be approved tonight, but a Sunni member of the constitutional panel said the process was still deadlocked.
IRAQ SET FORMALLY TO ADOPT CONSTITUTION DRAFT
By Alastair Macdonald
August 25, 2005
BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi government said a final draft of a constitution would be adopted by parliament on Thursday, despite its rejection by minority Sunni Arabs and clashes between rival factions among the Shi'ite majority.
"By the end of the day we will have a final version of the draft," government spokesman Laith Kubba told a news conference.
"It will be approved. The National Assembly will then rubber stamp it," he added, saying that the government was prepared to take the risk of it being rejected at an October referendum -- a result that would usher [in] another year of provisional rule.
Kubba said the provisions of the interim constitution that parliament had to draft the new constitution by a deadline in August had been met and there was no need for parliament to vote.
Parliamentary speaker Hajem al-Hassani took delivery of an initial draft minutes before that deadline on Monday but gave party leaders three more days to adjust three elements of it.
Kubba said minor amendments had been made, and an aide to the speaker said parliament would not actually convene on Thursday.
"Decisive talks" involving the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders -- who have forced through their draft with help from U.S. diplomats anxious to keep the process moving -- were beginning around 7 p.m. (1900 GMT), parliamentary officials said.
Kubba said a session of the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-dominated assembly on Sunday could be the moment for a symbolic "rubber stamp" vote to send the draft to a plebiscite by October 15.
But there would be no further discussions: "It's over," he said. "I'm sure they'll endorse the copy they have."
Sunnis, with scant representation in parliament following a boycott of January's election, have warned of civil war if the constitution goes through as it stands with provisions for a federal state that they fear could see Shi'ite and Kurdish regions hiving off oil resources in the north and south.
They are mobilizing to secure a blocking two-thirds "No" vote in three of Iraq's 18 provinces and also threatened on Thursday to mount a legal challenge to the way the draft was accepted.
Some Shi'ites, notably the young and influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have joined them in condemning the charter.
"Laith Kubba has been saying that we solved the disputes for a month now but so far we have not got anywhere," Hussein al -Falluji, a Sunni member of the constitution drafting panel, told Reuters. "If this constitution continues to include federalism it should be put in the bin and done again."
Kubba admitted that was a possibility. If the referendum fails, an election in December will not elect a parliament with full powers but another one-year interim assembly charged with starting negotiations on the constitution all over again.
The sooner a constitution is adopted the sooner the "suffering" of the Iraqi people would end, he said, echoing the position of U.S. President George W. Bush. But he added: "A delay is not a good thing. But it's not a disaster."
At least six people were killed and dozens wounded in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad late on Wednesday, hospital staff said.
Kubba described the fighting as a local dispute between Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and supporters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the main Shi'ite Islamist parties in the coalition government.
The discovery of the bodies of 36 shooting victims south of Baghdad also stepped up pressure on the government to improve security.
Provincial police chief Brigadier-General Abdel Haneen Hamoud told Reuters the victims were men left in their underwear in a shallow river, each with a single bullet wound to the head.
Sadr, who led two uprisings last year, sounded conciliatory at a morning news conference in Najaf.
But the violence, coming on top of a bloody show of force by Sunni insurgents on Baghdad's streets on Wednesday, may dent government hopes of a smooth passage for the constitution.
Sadr demanded that SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim condemn what he called an attack on his Najaf office by SCIRI members.
Hakim, however, said his supporters were not involved.
In Amara, near Basra, a policeman was killed in dawn clashes with fighters loyal to Sadr who occupied the premises of the rival Badr organisation, a local government official said.
Sadr, a strident nationalist whose followers deride rival Shi'ite Islamist leaders for their time in exile in Iran, has joined Sunni leaders in denouncing the draft constitution as a recipe for the break-up of the state:
"The constitution still falls short and is not acceptable . . . Federalism in itself is fine, but not in current circumstances of occupation," the young preacher said.
But Sadr also had conciliatory words for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, thanking him for calling for calm and Shi'ite solidarity and for positive comments he made about Sadr.
His followers have been jockeying for influence as SCIRI and other Shi'ite parties in the government struggle to stave off disillusion among voters with continued insecurity and poverty.
--(Additional reporting by Mussab al-Khairalla, Aseel Kami and Hiba Moussa in Baghdad, Khaled Farhan in Najaf and Abdel Razzak Hamed in Basra)