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Iraqi resistance may enter a new phase

Atul Aneja

Formation of the new Government in Iraq is unlikely to quell the popular resistance to the occupation.

NINE WEEKS after the controversial elections, Iraq is set to acquire a new government. On April 7, Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia leader, was named the country's Prime Minister. His name was announced the same day Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, was sworn in President, along with two deputies. The ceremony took place in Baghdad's high security green zone, a sensitive area which guerrillas battling Iraq's two-year old American-led occupation have frequently targeted.

The emerging new government mirrors the outcome of the January 30 elections, in which the Shias and the Kurds emerged the dominant players. The umbrella organisation of the Shias, United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), ended up with 148 seats in the 275-member Assembly, while the Kurdish alliance got 77. Consequently, the post of executive Prime Minister, who will exercise maximum power, has gone to a Shia, while the Kurds have been awarded a figurehead Presidency.

The new assembly has tried to placate the Sunnis, Iraq's second largest community, which mostly boycotted the polls. Ghazi Al Yawer, a Sunni, has been appointed one of the Vice-Presidents. Hajim Al Hassani, also a Sunni, has been named Speaker. Parliament is now slated to write Iraq's new constitution by August 15, and fresh elections, according to an existing timetable, will be held in December.

Peace unlikely

Contrary to the expectations aired in the mainstream media, the formation of the new government may not result in lasting peace in the resource-rich nation. Unless the new dispensation moves swiftly to address key issues affecting Iraqis and is prepared to confront the U.S. occupation authorities through mass mobilisations, the chances are the armed resistance against the occupation will not recede.

Sunni groups have so far spearheaded the Iraqi resistance, though Shias loyal to the young cleric Moqtada Al Sadr have revolted twice against the occupation. The uprising last year had led to a full-scale U.S. crackdown in the Shia strongholds of Najaf and Sadr city, on the outskirts of Baghdad.

It is now well recorded that the Iraqis who voted on January 30 saw in the polls an opportunity to end the occupation. Responding to the popular sentiment, the UIA sought the withdrawal of the U.S. and pushed this demand to the top of its election agenda. The Shia alliance said it would begin negotiations with the occupation forces so as to set a timetable for their pullout.

The UIA is now under pressure to deliver on its promise. The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), a powerful Sunni religious group that exercises considerable influence over the resistance, has declared, more than once, that the new government should set a time-table for the U.S. withdrawalfrom Iraq. Moqtada Al Sadr's group has also endorsed the Sunni call for the declaration of a time-line on the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Pressure mounting

The pressure on the new government is likely to become more intense as the Sunnis are not too pleased with the appointment of Mr. Hassani as the Speaker. Despite being a Sunni, his track record does not appear to have inspired much confidence within the community. His background shows that he was once a sympathiser of the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative religious grouping with political ambitions.

Secular-minded Sunnis have been, therefore, wary of him. The new Speaker has also spent long years in exile in the U.S. and his association with the Americans has not gone down well among ordinary Sunnis.

Besides, Mr. Hassani's handling of the crisis in Fallujah, resulting from the brutal U.S. bombardment of the city, also appears to have alienated him from the masses. He refused to resign from the interim government, in which he was Industry Minister, despite being asked to do so by his Iraqi Islamic party, following the November attack. Consequently, the party, which is popular among Sunnis, expelled him.

The UIA has so far dithered from confronting the Americans frontally, with its leaders avoiding fixing a definite timetable for the withdrawal.

A new grouping has challenged the American presence. On February 15, the "Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces" announced their presence and raised seven demands. The grouping has the AMS and Moqtada Al-Sadr's group as its pillars.

Significantly, the alliance includes a few constituents outside the Islamic ideological fold, such as secular and leftist forces as well as women groups.

Its demands include a "clear, precise, public and binding under international guarantees" timetable for the withdrawal. Iraqis, it stresses, should exercise full sovereignty in their country.

It has thus opposed U.S. plans for a permanent military presence in Iraq through a string of military bases. The AMS publicly supported Mr. Al-Sadr's call on April 9 for mass protests against the American occupation.

It is not inconceivable that this alliance, with clear non-sectarian overtones, may acquire a higher profile and give the resistance a new political meaning in the months to come.

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