September 01, 2004

Who died and made Rubaie kingmaker?

The New York Times account sort of rushes through it, but this little feud within the interim Iraqi government deserves a lot of attention:

It was the second time this month that Dr. Allawi had backed out of a tentative peace deal struck by his negotiators, who are led by his national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite political leader who is close to Ayatollah Sistani. Earlier this month, with the fighting raging in Najaf, Dr. Rubaie announced that he had struck a deal with Mr. Sadr, only to see Dr. Allawi renounce it.

Indeed, the abrupt cancellation of the agreement seemed to reveal a split within Iraq's Shiite political leadership, and even inside Dr. Allawi's government, over how to deal with the threat posed by Mr. Sadr and his legions of armed men. Several Iraqi newspapers reported this week that Dr. Rubaie intends to resign over differences with Dr. Allawi, who is a Shiite as well. Both Dr. Rubaie and Dr. Allawi have denied the strains.

So Rubaie, a key spokesperson for al-Dawaa, supposedly wants Allawi to strike a deal with Sadr. Meanwhile, SCIRI (and to some extent Dawaa) want the prime minister to bring the pain, wiping out the Mahdi militia and marginalizing Sadr within the political process. On the one hand, they don't want him to gain too much political power. But there's also a showdown a-looming, and SCIRI leaders no doubt know it. In the event that Sistani were to die, Muhammad Said al-Hakim, cousin of SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is the main contender for the role of marjah, increasing the likelihood of an eventual showdown between the Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr Corps. (The bad blood between the two groups speaks for itself.) Is Allawi under pressure to stem this possibility?

I've written in Mother Jones that Allawi no doubt just wanted to kill Sadr back in Najaf -- because hey, how bad could the ensuing protests really be? And to be honest, it doesn't seem like the most disastrous idea ever. Plus, you don't really want to leave the Mahdi fighters roaming around Sadr city unchecked. But at the same time, you really don't want to piss Rubaie off, since he's easily the most credible link to Sistani within the interim government. It's not entirely clear why Rubaie is so dovish on Sadr these days. The key, I guess, is what Sistani thinks should be done about the whole matter, and how his health is holding up, and why Allawi thinks Sadr City is a more urgent matter than the business in Fallujah and Ramadi.

-- Brad Plumer 8:28 PM || ||