Friday, May 2, 2008

Behind the scene of the Sadr City crackdown

A Press TV exclusive interview with Sheikh Salah Obeidi, Sadr's official spokesman

The following is the transcript of an Interview with Sheikh Salih al-Obaidi, Moqtada al-Sadr's spokesman:

Q. A meeting was held on Monday between the Sadr Party and President Talabani to discuss the ongoing violence in Baghdad's Sadr city. Clashes have been ensuing between Iraqi and US-led forces and armed groups including members of the Mahdi Army for a month. Would you please tell if during the meeting yesterday there were any new proposals laid out that my lead to the establishment of peace in Sadr City?

A. The meeting with President Talabani was according to a proposal suggested by the parliament. A committee from the parliament visited Sadr City three days ago and they became informed about the miserable situation of the city, the sufferings of the people and the American snipers. So the parliament decided to draw up a proposal to president so that he can set up a meeting between the Sadrists and government to solve the ongoing problem. The meeting should [have] been comprised of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and three presidential office members as well as the parliament speaker and a committee or a league from Sadr office, and some others from Sadr group in the parliament highlighted the current problems in Sadr city. To hold the meeting an official procedure had to be followed. The proposal had to be submitted to President Talabani through the parliament speaker.

Q. Prime Minister Nouri-Al Maliki has set up conditions for the Sadr movement in order to stop the ongoing military operation inside Sadr City including dismantling the Mahdi Army. Does the Sadr party have any plan to consider or accept any of these conditions?

A. We really didn't reach to that point to discuss those conditions to see if we can accept or refuse them. However, we reject Maliki's attitude towards the issue for setting up the conditions for us. Maliki has used a dictator style to put these conditions, because he thinks that the government can do anything to anyone and has official rights to do what it likes to do and no one can question the government's actions. This style, we think, is a dictator style. Furthermore the Maliki has adopted another policy which we refuse to follow that is when he sets conditions, then the Sadrists are obliged to accept those conditions. This indicates that the Sadrists have not followed or refused to accept those points before. He has to set conditions to stop military operation while in reality we have already followed and practiced the things he wanted us to do and we have been very cooperative to reach a kind of peace inside the Iraqi society. The security measures which were implemented since last year have been far from reality in 2006. Security was restored earlier when Sadrists froze their military actions in the first six months of the year, but Maliki ignores these points, trying to say that the Sadrists have done nothing for the security of Iraq. The Sadr movement has done its best.

Q. Has any negotiations taken place between the Sadr movement and the Maliki government?

A. There have been channels and kinds of attempts in order to quell the tensions, but such attempts have not been practical and we have achieved no results. Our problem with the government is the lack of trust. We need guarantees from the government to take our ideas into consideration. We really hope that the new meeting with President Talabani would build trust among us.

Q.What is the significance of the timing of this military operation both in Basra and Sadr city?

A.We really think some political sources provoked or pushed Maliki to do this campaign against our people. We think he has two important political reasons to do this campaign. Firstly, the upcoming elections in October which is very important because it determines who will control the governors and popular Sadr movement is [a source of concern for them], so they try to weaken the movement and impose limitation on it so that it can not participate in the elections. Secondly, there is a future agreement between the US and Iraqi government over the economic and security future of Iraq. We think that the new agreement would a more aggressive occupation. The Sadr party may be the first party to refuse the accord. This has put great pressure on the Sadr movement.

Q. Since Moqtada al-Sadr's ceasefire has entered its eighth months and with respect to Sadr's recent statement which warned of an open war, have the majority of the followers been thinking about the ceasefire. How long will the ceasefire last if the raids and attacks on Sadr's supporters continue?

A. the ceasefire was a decision by Moqtada al-Sadr and the average of the obedient reacted well as Moqtada al-Sadr himself told in an interview with Aljazeera TV. However we can't avoid protecting ourselves at the time of aggressions by the US occupiers or some Iraqi troops who take part in US operations against our people. So they have the right to protect themselves. The ceasefire and freezing Mahdi Army actions would be more practical if both sides don't target the Sadrists. They have to stop the campaign against the Sadr movement. Yes, they have the right to fight the gangs and criminals, but they use the title of gangs and criminals to fight Sadr's supporters. It is not obvious for the observers that Sadrists are the targets of the occupation forces and Iraqi government for political reasons.

Q. Prime Minister Maliki has recently announced that the United Iraqi Alliance cabinet is complete with a notable exception of the Sadr party. Why has the Sadr party chosen to stand back from this particular political process?

A. We decided not to participate in the government to insist our position as opposition to the government. This does not mean that we intimidate the government. We gave Maliki the opportunity to choose professionals for six ministries, but we saw that he did not choose professional people. He chose people who belong to this or that party and four ministries have been without ministers by now. So we concentrate on our opposition to the government and occupiers in order to have a free space for movement against them.

Q. What is the latest on the ground in Basra? We are hearing reports now that the whole area is under the control of the Iraqi army and western media are telling us that is a great success. In late March resistance fighters including Mahdi Army did went into a serious war with Iraqi, US and British forces. So what is exactly the situation now, as it is so quiet, have the fighters simply laid down their arms or they continue raids and attacks?

A. Our people are obedient to the agreement to stop all tension in Basra which happened at the end of March and they have not violated it so far, despite the fact that the Iraqi government and troops have violated the agreement. Moqtada al-Sadr made the decision to stop all tension in Basra in order to give opportunity to the government to fight criminals and gangs, but the government has used the media claiming that it has fought with Sadrists and Mahdi Army and has managed to control the situation. These are totally lies, because our people stopped fighting after the end of March and they obeyed the decision of Moqtada al-Sadr. The Iraqi government and security troops have launched several aggressive actions against our people, for instance the house of three important figures of our office in Basra came under attack and their families were arrested several times for one or two days. They have also prevented us from performing Friday prayers in two or three places in Basra for two weeks without any reasons. What kind of obstacles do the prayers put ahead of security process there? This is an aggressive action. They also destroyed the places and tents that we have built for the prayers in two important places in Basra. So we are now under security forces' attacks in Basra, but the government refuses to accept it, telling media that it has achieved a big victory. The victory has been achieved because we provided them with the opportunity. We have also suffered from being targeted by killers. Some of our people have been killed by gangs in Basra before Maliki's actions and two days ago one of senior figures in Basra office was killed when he was going around with his family. So we have been targeted until now in Basra.