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NSN Iraq Daily Update 2/08/08

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SECTARIANISM PLAGUES IRAQI PARLIAMENT

Key parties threaten to oust PM Maliki unless he acts quickly to improve the government's performance, advance stalled reforms, and build an effective coalition. Threats of a possible parliamentary vote of no confidence have come in recent weeks from the Kurdish Alliance and the Shi'a party Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Maliki's last major defenders. These parties, along with the largest Sunni political party, have suggested Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, a Shi'a, as a possible alternative to Maliki. "Whether it will come to a vote of no confidence or not, it remains to be seen, but the agreed policy, the agreed road map, is that sweeping fundamental reforms are urgently needed. Otherwise the consequences will be dire," said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, with the Kurdish Alliance. "The Sunnis have problems with him; the Kurds have problems with him; even the Shi'a have problems," said Human Hamoodi of Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. [LA Times, 2/8/09]

The Iraqi Parliament again deferred a vote on the budget on Thursday as political blocs argued about how to divide financing among the provinces. The debate on Iraq's 2008 budget, which was supposed to have been resolved with a vote in December, has revolved around how much of the money to allocate to the Kurds and whether the central government will pay the costs of the Kurdish militia. During Thursday's debate, about 90 members of Parliament walked out in protest over a provision that would give the prime minister a final say over the firing of provincial governors. They were from the Kurdish coalition and the largest Shi'a coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. However members of Parliament did make headway toward approving a law that would outline provincial powers and said they expected to complete the provincial powers measure in the next week, despite sharp disagreements between parties and legislators. [NY Times, 2/8/08]

ATTACKS ON U.S. BACKED "CONCERNED LOCAL CITIZENS" GROUPS HAVE DOUBLED

Attacks on Iraqi security volunteers, who are given much of the credit for reducing violence in their country, have doubled since October. The statement from the U.S. military came after six volunteers were killed in two separate incidents. A U.S. military spokesman said they had only recently begun tracking attacks on concerned local citizens groups and did not know how many members had been killed. But he said the frequency of such attacks had doubled since October, at a time when other attacks have decreased. The military believes the increased number of attacks is a sign that Sunni militants feel squeezed by the local security effort, which has grown to include at least 70,000 members of so-called concerned local citizens groups. [LA Times, 2/8/08]

AN INCREASINGLY RECLUSIVE--BUT VERY POWERFUL-- SHI'A CLERIC MAY LEAVE A POWER VACUUM IN SOUTHERN IRAQ

Iraq's most influential Shi'a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has sharply reduced his workload in recent months. Any change in al-Sistani's role or reach could have far-reaching consequences for both Iraq and the United States, which consider the Iranian-born cleric as perhaps the most powerful figure in Iraq and a vital stabilizing force in southern Iraq. As al-Sistani's vast clout possibly wanes, many worry the majority Shi'a could further splinter into factions that could rattle Iraq's Shi'a-led government and boost militias hostile to U.S. forces. [AP, 1/7/08]

IRAN APPEARS TO STILL BE PULLING THE STRINGS OF INSURGENT GROUPS IN IRAQ

U.S. sees increased attacks by Iranian-backed groups up in Iraq. According to a statement made by the State Department's Iraq coordinator, attacks by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq have increased in recent months. He believes that Iran's strategy remained to force the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq at as high a price as possible. "Iran remains, we believe, determined to pursue its goal of departure of U.S. forces under as difficult circumstances as possible, both as a means of securing its ambitions in Iraq per se as well as projecting through and beyond Iraq its broader regional and... international ambitions," he said. South of Baghdad, U.S. forces arrested a suspected leader of an Iranian backed Shi'a militia group late Thursday night. A US military press release said the arrested man was believed to be a "special groups" leader - language the military uses to describe Shia militias allegedly backed by Iran. [Reuters, 1/7/08. BBC, 2/9/08]