Global Policy Forum

Key Sunni in Iraq May Resign


By Edward Wong

New York Times
August 14, 2006

Revealing the first major crack in the fragile unity government, the speaker of Parliament said Monday that he was considering stepping down because of bitter enmity among the Kurdish and Shiite political blocs. The speaker is the third-ranking official in Iraq and a conservative Sunni Arab. Shiite and Kurdish legislators have banded together to try to push out the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who is considered too radical by many Iraqi politicians and U.S. officials. Since taking office in late May, Mashhadani has praised the Sunni insurgency in public, called the Americans "butchers" and denounced the idea of carving up Iraq into autonomous regions, which the Kurds and some Shiites strongly support. "Maybe now is the best time for me to withdraw," Mashhadani said in a telephone interview. "My hand won't be stained as they want it to be stained."

The replacement of Mashhadani would represent the first upheaval in the new Shiite-led government since it was installed on May 20. In the weeks since, Iraqis have been growing more and more disillusioned with their leaders as sectarian violence has soared and basic services such as electricity and water continue to lag. The executive offices and the 275-seat Parliament are split mostly among the major Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political blocs.

The political jockeying unfolded as an American military spokesman, Major General William Caldwell, told reporters that some Shiite militias were receiving weapons from Iran and undergoing training there. It is unclear, however, whether the Iranian government is directly involved, he said. "We do know that weapons have been provided and IED technology been made available to these extremist elements," he said, using the military's acronym for improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs.

The Iranian involvement was first reported last week by The New York Times. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in an interview Friday that Iran had been encouraging small Shiite militias to attack the U.S.- led forces in retaliation for American backing of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran, governed by Shiite Persians, supports Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

In the Iraqi Parliament, the bylaws say the speaker can be replaced if an absolute majority of the members - 138 - approve of the ouster. The Parliament is in recess for August, but a Kurdish legislator, Mahmoud Othman, said a special session might be called to vote on Mashhadani.

The move to replace Mashhadani could infuriate some Sunni Arabs in the government. But several legislators said in interviews that the main Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, would be allowed to retain the speaker position, provided that it found an agreeable replacement. Mashhadani said he would stay in the Parliament even if forced to step down as speaker. One member of the bloc, Salim Abdullah, said some Sunni legislators were open to nominating another speaker. "This is the time when we need someone to be more active and more acceptable to the political blocs," he said. Othman, the Kurdish legislator, said many Kurdish and Shiite politicians believed that Mashhadani's proclamations had been "extreme" and "might endanger the situation."

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