Political tensions on the rise in post US Iraq

BAGHDAD — On the surface, it would appear that the announcement by an anti-American Shia insurgent group that it is laying down its arms and joining the political process would help stabilize the turbulent situation in Iraq.

But analysts warn that the move by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or the League of the Righteous, could have the opposite effect by further alienating Sunni Arabs while sparking rivalries between competing Shia groups.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed the declaration by Asaib Ahl al-Haq to renounce violence and enter politics, describing it as a step toward political stability.

Saad al-Mutlabi, an aide to Maliki, said the government deserved credit for persuading insurgents to join mainstream politics.

“It’s an achievement to convince this group to lay down its arms and join us,” he said. “We welcome them.”

Asaib Ahl al-Haq first emerged in 2007 after splitting from another anti-American group led by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Asaib is thought to have been responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. forces in the ensuing years. Its critics say the group is covertly financed by Iran, an allegation its members deny.

There are already signs that Asaib’s move has sparked tension within the government.

Members of the Sadrists’ party, whose support is critical to the Maliki government, have made it clear they oppose Asaib’s entry into politics.

Hussein Talib, a member of parliament from the Sadrist bloc, said they would oppose Asaib’s inclusion in the political process.

“We will not allow their participation; it threatens Iraq’s unity,” he said.

Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement accusing Asaib of being “killers with no religion — all they care about is position.”

The latest clash between Shia factions comes on top of divisions between the Shia-led government and the country’s Sunni minority, a gulf that was recently widened when an arrest warrant was issued for the country’s top Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.

Hashemi has sought refuge in the Kurd-controlled north, and most members of his Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc are refusing to participate in government, effectively paralyzing the government.

Mariam Abdullah, a Baghdad-based analyst, sees nothing but trouble emerging from the clash between Shia factions.

“Adding a new faction to the already divided existing factions will result in chaos,” he warned.

• Mohammed is a reporter in Iraq who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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