BAGHDAD - Many Iraqis have come to believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki is just as much a dictator as Saddam Hussein was.
"Al-Maliki is a dictator who must be removed by all means," 35-year-old
Abdul-Riza Hussein, a Mahdi Army member from Sadr City in Baghdad, told IPS.
"He is a worse dictator than Saddam; he has killed in less than two years
more than Saddam killed in 10 years."
Following the failed attempt by the U.S.-backed al-Maliki to crack down on
the Mahdi Army militia of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the situation in Iraq
has become much worse. Iraq appears to be splintering more widely under this
rule than under Saddam's.
Fierce fighting has broken out between Sadr's Mahdi Army and Maliki's army
and police forces in Baghdad, which comprise mostly the Badr Organization militia,
the armed wing of a political group, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC).
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. military in Baghdad, there has
been a sharp increase in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces, from
239 in February to 631 in March. Most of these attacks are believed to have
been carried out by the Mahdi Army.
The Mahdi Army is known to have substantial control of the streets of Baghdad,
Basra, and many other predominantly Shia areas in southern Iraq.
But there is also considerable Shia support for Maliki's effort to disarm
the Mahdi Army. "Those who shout loud against Maliki and his legally elected
government are all thieves and murderers and must be executed," says Aziz
Mussawi, a resident of Hilla, 60 mi. south of Baghdad, who fled for Baghdad
when the clashes started there last month. "These militias will destroy
Iraq if left unleashed."
Many Iraqis feel caught in a crossfire in what they see as a battle for power
between the Shia factions. "Over a thousand Iraqis got killed and more
than that number wounded just for a game of chess between warlords," Mohammad
Alwan, a lawyer in Baghdad, told IPS. "All of them call for dissolving
militias while they keep militias of their own. Most of those in power in the
government are militia leaders."
Sadr and his followers are calling for unity, in an attempt to bring as many
Iraqis as they can, Sunni and Shia, to their side. The rival Fadhila Party,
powerful in many Shia provinces and in cities like Basra where it holds the
governorship, has also called for unity.
It is widely believed in Iraq that parties who call for unity are using the
issue to get public support against federalism, seen to be supported by the
U.S. and Iranian backed parties such as the SIIC and Maliki's Da'wa Party.
Many in Iraq see federalism as the breakup of the country.
After five years of occupation and suffering, with no end in sight, many Iraqis
have become skeptical of all political and religious leaders.
"Sadr is another face of the Iranian project, despite their pretending
to be a national movement," Jassam Hady, a colonel of the former Iraqi
army in Baghdad, told IPS. "All those in the Iraqi government in the so-called
Green Zone have militias that have killed Iraqis under one flag or another."
Hady, like many Iraqis, believes that the current spasm of violence will worsen
as the two main Shia groups, the Sadr Movement and Maliki's affiliations, continue
to vie for power ahead of the provincial elections slated for October.
Division has broken out also within tribes; many have now come to back Sadr
not because they like him, but because they hate the Badr militia of Hakeem's
SIIC and Maliki's Da'wa Party.
"Our problem in the southern parts of Iraq and other Shia dominated areas
is that all options are bad," the chief of a major tribe in Basra who
fled for Baghdad told IPS on the condition of anonymity. "Iranian controlled
militias killed so many chiefs of tribes because they refused to support these
division projects concealed under the flag of federalism."
Several tribes in the south have formed unions to fight the separation project,
but some sheiks have formed counter unions to support the Badr and Da'wa agenda.
Most people seem to oppose any federalism that would separate Shia from Sunni
"We will be weak without our Sunni brothers," says Shamil Mahmood
of Sadr City, the eastern district of 2 million in Baghdad. "The whole
of the south will be swallowed by Iran, that will humiliate us and treat us
(Inter Press Service)