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Iraq: Parliamentarian Predicts Al-Sadr Supporters Will Align With Sunnis After Election

Qusay Abd al-Wahhab Abbud al-Suhail -- a member of the Iraqi National Assembly and a supporter of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- predicted in a 14 October interview that al-Sadr supporters in parliament will align with the Sunni group National Dialogue Council following the December election. Al-Suhail also discussed al-Sadr's position on the draft constitution, as well as Iranian influence in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: As you know, we don't believe in coalitions. Since the last period, the United Iraqi Alliance has been weak, and many of its decisions were not executed. We believe that the Iraqi constitution [produced] a great [result for] Kurds as compared to the Iraqi [Shi'ite] coalition. Therefore, we decided to enter the elections individually [ -- rather than as part of a coalition -- in order] to see [what our impact is] on the Iraqi people [in terms of support for our movement]. This is the first [point]. The second is to enhance the infrastructure construction and safeguard our country. Therefore, we think that entering a coalition before the election is not useful. But when we enter the election individually, we can see our weight in the Iraqi public and...we can make our alliance with other Shi'a parties and some Sunni movements, such as the Iraqi National Dialogue Council. We have a continuous discussion and dialogue with other parties in Iraq.

RFE/RL: So, there's a possibility that after the election you will join with the National Dialogue Council?

Al-Suhail: Yes.

RFE/RL: Will Muqtada al-Sadr also participate in the election?

Al-Suhail: No. Personally he doesn't [want] to enter politics. He has a belief that any political participation under the occupation is not [legitimate]...but the door is open for his followers [to participate].

RFE/RL: It seems lately when we look at al-Sadr, he is moving much closer to the Sunnis than to the Shi'a [politically] in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: No, that's not completely true. As you know, Muqtada al-Sadr is a national leader. Therefore he has a national vision for all Iraqi people, not respect for the Shi'a only. Since he is a national leader, he will see all Iraqi people as equals, qualified to do everything for their country.

RFE/RL: What will his position be on the [referendum on the] constitution?

Al-Suhail: Muqtada al-Sadr leaves this decision to his followers for themselves. You have to know that Muqtada al-Sadr is not a marji' [religious authority], he's just a national leader. Therefore, he decided to call on his followers to follow their marji'. Most of Muhammad [Sadiq] al-Sadr's [Muqtada's deceased father, a well-known ayatollah] follow the Shi'ite maraji' such as [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani, and [ayatollahs] Kazim al-Ha'iri, Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Muhammad al-Ya'qubi. Therefore, everything that these Shi'ite marji' decide, the followers should obey.

RFE/RL: Ayatollah al-Sistani has asked the Shi'a to vote in favor of the constitution.

Al-Suhail: Yes, he called on them to vote "yes" on the constitution, and I think it's the most important decision.

RFE/RL: But, still, al-Sadr is saying to his people, "You can vote 'yes' or 'no'." He's not following the line of al-Sistani.

Al-Suhail: Yes, he believes so much in democracy.

RFE/RL: Will you participate in the next election?

Al-Suhail: Yes.

RFE/RL: As an independent, or will you join a coalition?

Al-Suhail: No, we [al-Sadr supporters] will enter the election as an individual list. Our list will be called "Al-Sadr Masses" [Kutlat Al-Sadr]. Many Iraqi people are preparing to [become] Kutlat al-Sadriyin, those who [followed] the [late] Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Muhammad [Sadiq] al-Sadr.

RFE/RL: How many people will run with you for seats in the National Assembly?

Al-Suhail: If we run, it will not be less than 32-40 individuals. This is only for Baghdad and [some] other governorates. In other governorates such as Al-Hillah, Al-Najaf, Al-Diwaniyah, Samawah, [we] may enter into coalitions with other parties such as the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party in its two branches -- Al-Da'wah-Iraq, which belongs to Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, and Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah, which belongs to [Prime Minister] Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. We have entered into a coalition with them in some Iraqi governorates, but in Baghdad, we are prepared to enter [the election] as an individual list.

RFE/RL: But based on what you said, the coalition will not be with the Shi'a but with the National Dialogue Council?

Al-Suhail: Yes, as I said, the Shi'a coalition was so weak [in its performance in the transitional government] as compared to the Kurdistan list. Therefore, our constitution is [written] from a Kurdish [stance], not a Shi'a one.

RFE/RL: The Al-Najaf Tribal Council this week criticized Iran for interfering in Iraqi affairs in Al-Najaf.

Al-Suhail: Iran's interference in Iraqi issues was highly exaggerated by the media. When you [visit the holy cities] of Al-Najaf and Karbala, you will not see any Iranians. The Iranian interference in Iraq is so exaggerated, and it's not true on the ground. The Iraqi field now is open for the intelligence of all the surrounding countries, such as Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, all of the intelligence [services] of these countries are [active] in Iraq, and I think the Iranians are not [as] effective as the media [claims].

RFE/RL: But, [Shi'ite leader] Ali al-Dabbagh said there is Iranian interference in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: As I said, there is Iranian interference in Baghdad, but it is little compared to the others such as Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudis.

RFE/RL: Why would the Al-Najaf Tribal Council say something like this about Iran, if it were not true?

Al-Suhail: In Iraq now there are more than 400-500 political parties and movements. Therefore, any four or five persons can form any council they want. [Iranian interference] is not the expressed view of a considerable [amount of] people in this area. I think [the tribal council] expressed their own opinions.

RFE/RL: What about in Al-Basrah? We hear that there are many Iranians in Al-Basrah.

Al-Suhail: In Al-Basrah, according to the electoral process, the local council of Al-Basrah [is composed of] many movements. But the support for Iranian movements is little. The Al-Basrah governor is from the Al-Fadilah (Islamic) Party. The chairman of the local council of Al-Basrah is from the Al-Da'wah movement, the other members of the council are from the [Iraqi] National Accord, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI], and Badr [forces -- the former armed wing of SCIRI now considered a political organization], but their role is so little compared to Al-Fadilah and other parties. The Badr [forces] and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq were effective only in Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Samawah.... There is a great conflict between the Al-Fadilah and the Al-Sadr movement in Al-Basrah and [SCIRI] because [SCIRI] is supported by Iran. The Al-Fadilah and the Al-Sadr followers can be regarded as purely Iraqis. They don't have any support from outside Iraq.

RFE/RL: And you are saying that the Badr Organization is supported by Iran?

Al-Suhail: Yes -- partly. [Badr] is a political movement now, not a military movement now.

See also:

Al-Sadr Supporters Demonstrate Against Constitution

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