Al-Muthana province was transferred to local Iraqi control by the British Army last year. Yesterday, the governor was assassinated in the latest example of the Shia-on-Shia factional dispute that is raging in southern Iraq. The conflict in Iraq is now primarily between Shia factions; al Qaeda initiated only about 15% of the attacks in the first six months of 2007 according to al Jazeera, whose story is linked below.
The all-Shia nature of the conflict seems to be almost entirely ignored by the U.S. news media, maybe because the British are in charge in the region where it is most apparent, or maybe because the Bush administration and the U.S. media are obsessed with al Qaeda. Nevertheless, we ought to pay closer attention to what goes on in the southern region, since it probably foreshadows what will happen across the entire country when U.S. forces eventually leave.
Iraq governor dies in bomb attack; Al-Hassani's assassination is the second of a provincial leader in just over a week
An Iraqi governor has died in a roadside bomb attack, the second assassination of a provincial leader in nine days. Mohammed Ali al-Hassani, governor of al-Muthana province, died when the blast hit his convoy in the provincial capital Samawa at about 8am (0400GMT) on Monday, said Zaman Hadi, head of security at the city's general hospital. At least one other person died in the blast, with two more seriously injured, according to police reports.
On August 11, the governor and police chief of Qadasiya, a province in southern Iraq, died in a roadside bomb attack. Both governors were members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a group led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shia Muslim politician. Supporters of the council have fought the Mahdi army, created by Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia leader, for control of Iraq's oil-rich south.
Shia and Sunni groups have been fought sectarian battles in Iraq since the US-led invasion of March 2003. However, recent months have seen intra-Shia violence between the Badr Organisation, the SIIC's armed wing, and the Mahdi army. "This is part of a settling of scores prior to the elections next year," said a senior Shia official who declined to be named. "I don't think there will be a Shia bloodbath because a decision has been taken to act with restraint. But more assassinations of some figures are expected," he said.
Riyadh Majeedh, Samawa's acting mayor, said Iraqi security forces had been deployed in the city and that an indefinite curfew had been imposed.
Hoda Abdel Hamid, Al Jazeera's Iraq analyst, said the successive attacks against provincial governors signified a marked rise in Shia-on-Shia violence. "The significance [of this particular attack] is in the succession of attacks against governors. I think it is showing that there is intra-Shia fighting that is getting bigger and bolder every day. We have seen on the ground already the Badr brigade, which is really the police force in southern Iraq, fighting with the Mahdi army."
Fighting broke out between various Shia factions in Samawa, which is about 370km southeast of the capital Baghdad, in July. Abdel Hamid said the intra-Shia violence was in contrast to Washington's tradtional assessment that al-Qaeda is the biggest cause of destabilsation in Iraq. "There is a lot of factional fighting that is nothing to do with al-Qaeda. The national intelligence estimate in the US has actually pinpointed al-Qaeda as the fifth threat to Iraq's stability rather than the first threat," she said. "What is really destabilising Iraq now is factional fighting... al-Qaeda is behind about 15 per cent of the attacks over the first six months of the year."
Al-Muthana was the first province that was transferred to Iraqi control by the British army last year.
Amid the growing discord between Shias in Iraq, al-Sadr said al-Maliki's government was close to collapse despite efforts to bolster it. "Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people," al-Sadr said in an interview published by London's Independent newspaper on Monday. "The prime minister is a tool for the Americans, and people see that clearly," he said in the interview, which was conducted in the southern Iraqi city of Kufa. "It will probably be the Americans who decide to change him when they realise he has failed. We don't have a democracy here, we have a foreign occupation."
Al-Sadr, who formerly expressed support for al-Maliki, withdrew his five supporters from the Iraqi cabinet to protest the prime minister's refusal to demand a timetable for the pullout of US forces from Iraq.