BAGHDAD — A May 29 IPS report on clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga troops and militiamen of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad has been confirmed by an Iraqi member of Parliament, representing the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front (Al-Tawafuq).
Speaking on condition of strict anonymity inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone of central Baghdad where the Iraqi government meets, the MP told IPS that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “sold Kirkuk in exchange for Kurdish support for his collapsing government, and other matters such as not being in the way of Shiite militias in Baghdad.”
He clarified that he believes al-Maliki made a pact with Kurdish MPs to relinquish plans for trying to have the central government in Baghdad control economic and oil issues in the Kurdish controlled city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, but did not express confidence that the deal would be honoured.
All political manoeuvrings these days are “about who is to take over power in the country,” he added, “while people are getting killed by the hundreds every day.”
Last month the clashes between the Kurdish and Shia militias occurred in the Amil and Bayaa areas of southwest Baghdad. The Kurds were manning a checkpoint that was part of the Baghdad security plan when they were attacked by the Shia militiamen.
The clashes underscore the tense and extremely volatile political situation, exposing a very real possibility that Kurdish-Shiite fighting could ignite in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, as al-Sadr has many followers in that mostly Kurdish city.
“Peshmerga Kurdish Forces withdrew from Bayaa and Amil immediately after Prime Minister al-Maliki’s return from Sulaymaniya and Arbil, cities in northern Iraq,” retired Iraqi army general Mahmood Sultan told IPS.
Sultan, who now works as a military analyst for various organisations in Baghdad, told IPS, “It is obvious that Iraqi leaders have started dividing the country and high posts. They are taking advantage of the U.S. administration’s despair for any possible exit from the deteriorating situation.”
The first battalion of the second Iraqi army division, which is a Kurdish Peshmerga militia unit, withdrew from the Bayaa and Amil quarters while telling people in the area that they would be replaced by another Kurdish group.
Residents, however, were surprised to see forces of the Ministry of Interior taking over the former Kurdish positions. Ministry of Interior forces are largely comprised of Shia militias, and have been accused of operating as death squads.
Immediately after the Kurdish forces withdrew, Shia militias appeared to invade Sunni mosques and started killing and evicting Sunnis in the area.
A spokesman for the People of Iraq Assembly, led by Adnan al-Dulaimy, condemned the reappearance of Shiite militias and their “brutal attacks” against Sunni mosques.
“Faatah Pasha and other mosques are now occupied with Shiite militia men under cover of Iraqi police,” read a statement from the group addressing the matter, “And the government is fully responsible for the current situation and any future disasters which could take place in the coming days.”
Shock waves from the incident are already shaking up the government.
Islamic party senior member and deputy chief of the security committee in the Iraqi Parliament, Abdul Karim al-Samarra’e, said at a news conference that he contacted Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani and National Security Advisor Muaffaq al-Rubaie about Shiite militias invading southwest Baghdad and the urgent need to react to the withdrawal of the Kurdish unit.
“I received no response,” he told reporters, “and this has led me to suspend my post at the committee until the situation is corrected.”
Shia militia activity continues to be high across Baghdad, but has worsened since the Kurdish unit was removed from the aforementioned areas.
“Militias attacked our area in Saydiya near Bayaa on Thursday,” a lawyer who lives off the main commercial street of Saydiya, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “They started their usual business of detaining people in order to execute them later, but the God-blessed resistance fighters appeared to teach them a lesson and so they escaped like scared rats.”
Many Iraqis in the area believe that the combination of an impotent Iraqi government and ongoing political deals are only worsening the already catastrophic condition their country is in.
“It is certainly one part of the deal between [Kurdish leader Massoud] Barzani, [Iraqi President Jalal] Talibani and Maliki,” Yassir al-Ani, a journalist who lives in Saydiya, told IPS. “We never trusted the Kurds to be a positive factor in the equation and we were positive that they were brought to Baghdad just to support Americans in their effort to defeat the resistance and to gain more privileges in the new arrangements for dividing the country,” he said.
Some Iraqi analysts believe the incident and the resulting political machinations are a reflection of the crisis the U.S. military faces in Baghdad and shows there is no single group capable of achieving control of the ever-worsening situation in the capital city.
“All U.S. allies could not have full control of any part of Iraq and so they have become more a problem than a solution to the dilemmas the U.S. army is facing in the disturbed country,” Iraqi political analyst Maki al-Nazzal told IPS.
“The only way out of all this is to talk to the right people, who certainly are not those in the Iraqi Parliament, but then again that would mean an obvious sign of defeat for the American project in Iraq and the area,” he added.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)