- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2010


BAGHDAD (AP) — An agreement signed by Iraq’s two main Shi’ite blocs seeking to govern the country gives the final decision on all their disputes to top Shi’ite clerics, according to a copy obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday.

A leading member of the prime minister’s coalition who signed the agreement on Tuesday confirmed it gives a small group of clerics led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the last word on any disputes between the two allied blocs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

“The marjaiyah has the final say in solving all the disputes between the two sides and its directives and guidance are binding,” the agreement said, referring to the religious Shi’ite leadership based in the holy city of Najaf.

Shi’ite politician Karim al-Yaqoubi, who attend the signing, also confirmed the contents of the agreement.

The newly announced alliance between the Shi’ite blocs, which have a history of antagonism, practically ensures they will form the core of any new government and squeeze out the top vote-getter, the Sunni-backed and secular Iraqiya list.

Iraq’s Sunnis have been sidelined by Shi’ite-led governments since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. The community threw its weight behind former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya, which won 91 seats in the election — more than any other bloc. And Sunnis already are warning that excluding them from government could fuel new sectarian violence.

The document sets forth 11 conditions for the alliance, and with distrust high between them, final authority to resolve disputes is left to the top Shi’ite clerics. That effectively enshrines in writing what was a de facto situation.

Iraqi political factions have been squabbling for weeks after the results of the March 7 closely fought elections came out showing no bloc with an outright majority in the 325-seat parliament.

The latest developments, including an explicit role for the clerics, are likely to further alienate the once-dominant Sunnis, who feel discriminated against by the Shi’ite-led government.

The Shi’ite alliance may not need any support from the Sunnis. It is only four seats shy of a majority in parliament, and one of the points in the agreement signed Tuesday night said the pan-Shi’ite alliance intends to form an alliance with the powerful Kurdish coalition, which has 43 seats. The Kurds so far have not indicated whether they will join the Shi’ite alliance.

In the past, however, Sunni disenfranchisement fueled a powerful insurgency that brought the country to the brink of a civil war.

A Sunni politician warned Wednesday that a new alliance of conservative Iraqi Shi’ite parties could revive the sectarian conflict that once wracked the country.

Hamid al-Mutlaq, who won a parliament seat on the Iraqiya list, expressed his hope that the new Shi’ite alliance will extend a hand to other parties and suggested sectarian conflict could flare again if it did not.

“The previous years of sectarian conflict took place between Iraqi families, among the people and even within the same neighborhood. We hope that this will never come to pass again,” he warned.

Mr. al-Mutlaq is from Anbar, the predominantly Sunni province in Iraq’s west that was once home to the insurgency that fought the government and U.S. forces.

Mr. al-Mutlaq is a cousin to Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician who was banned from running by a Shi’ite-led committee tasked with vetting candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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