BASRA — Disgruntled members of the Mahdi Army of firebrand Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr are amassing weapons and munitions for a possible face-off with the government, which they accuse of marginalizing Sadrists in decision-making.
"They are acting as if there are no other people to discuss their decisions," Abu Hassan al-Rawood, a militia member, told IslamOnline.net.
"They are behaving like we don’t exist and it cannot continue."
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’’s Islamic Dawa Party has snatched most of the local seats in the southern provinces in the January provincial elections.
In Basra alone, it had taken in 37 percent of the vote compared to a measly 5 percent for the Sadrists.
"The election was fraud in many areas of the southern provinces and unfortunately the only way to make the central government be open to our participation in the politics is fighting for recognition," argues Rawood.
The Mahdi Army was created by al-Sadr in June 2003 and made headlines as of 2004 for two major military confrontations with the US forces and the Iraqi government troops.
At some point in time, the militia held sway over several southern provinces and even operated what amounted to a shadow government in some areas.
"We aren’t in favor of battles and haven’t asked the Mahdi Army for that," one Sadrist lawmaker told IOL, on condition of anonymity.
"However, locals and fighters are the ones who started to see that they are losing support because we don’t have power in the governorates to help them," he explained.
"The coming days are crucial to prevent a future battle between Mahdi members and local security.
"We have to be recognized and our ideas and decisions respected by other elected party members but I just hope that it happens before innocent civilians pay for it."
Both security forces and locals anticipate a possible flare-up of an armed clash between the government and the Mahdi Army.
"It is a worrying situation, especially after the US troops withdrawn from Iraqi streets," Haydar Hussini Barak, a senior police officer in Basra, told IOL.
"They have their own leaders and don’t follow any religious cleric who would give more stability to decisions," he asserted.
"They are looking for power despite elected politicians refuse their help."
Locals are already bracing for trouble.
"I have already alerted my family that if tension keeps on, we will have to leave to Baghdad for a while," Muhammad Bani Salim, a political analyst, told IOL.
"Despite violence in the capital keeps present in the residents’ life, at least religious interference is smaller and a street dispute is less possible to happen, while here in southern provinces, it will leave eternal spots of blood in our streets."
Salim, who is also a volunteered aid worker, said Iraq has been in turmoil since the 2003 US invasion.
"We are witnesses of political disputes with hundreds of innocent Iraqis killed, sectarian violence that made our region a large displacement camp, religious dispute backed by religious militias or direct confrontations with British and US armies," he asserted.
"Sometimes I feel that we will never live in peace again."