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IRAQ: Politicians a no-show in latest crisis

March 29, 2008 |  7:01 am

With Iraqi government troops struggling to quell Shiite Muslim militiamen, the Sunni speaker of parliament summoned legislators to an emergency session. But most lawmakers failed to show up.

Friday’s session, which took place amid rocket and mortar fire, highlighted how persistent divisions between Iraqi political factions continue to stymie progress.

Those present agreed that a committee should be formed to find a negotiated solution to the fighting, which has claimed more than 150 lives.

“It is our duty as a legislative and oversight authority to intervene in order to salvage the situation,” parliament speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani told the Arabic-language satellite news station, Al Arabiya.

Among other things, he said lawmakers must determine whether Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led government is unfairly targeting members of a rival political faction made up of followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Maliki insists the crackdown, which began Tuesday, is aimed at restoring law and order in Basra, the southern oil hub where the country's main Shiite factions, their associated militias and criminal gangs are locked in an often bloody struggle for power and influence.

However, Sadr’s followers accuse Maliki and his allies in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the dominant Shiite political party, of using the country’s security forces to weaken the cleric’s movement ahead of fall provincial elections.

Neither the Supreme Council, Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party, nor their Kurdish allies participated in Friday’s session.With so few legislators present, there was no quorum to approve the committee’s makeup and structure.

— Alexandra Zavis and a Times special correspondent in Baghdad