Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Iraq Gains Control of Diwaniyah Province
Today, July 16, the U.S. turned over the tenth province, Diwaniyah, formerly known as Qadisiyah, to Iraqi control. Originally the handover was supposed to happen on June 30, but that was postponed because of logistical problems between the U.S. and Baghdad. Iraq now controls the provinces of Dahuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Basra, Thi Qar, Maysan, Karbala, Muthanna, and Najaf. Iraq’s national security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said the country hopes to have control of all 18 provinces by the end of the year. Originally, when President Bush announced the surge in January 2007, he said that Iraqis would control all of their territory by November 2007. That obviously has been delayed. Like much of the south, Diwaniyah’s major problem has not been with the insurgency, but with different Shiite factions.
The province has been divided between followers of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council (SIIC). The SIIC controls the provincial government, while the local security forces are split between the two. The rivalry between them has often turned violent. In August 2007 for example, a roadside bomb killed the province’s governor and police chief. Both were members of the SIIC, and the Mahdi Army was suspected as the culprits. That was followed by clashes between the two at the end of the month when Sadrists attacked SIIC offices and mosques, as part of a power struggle over the holy city of Karbala In October, the two sides signed a truce to end their disputes in the province, but it didn’t hold. In April and November 2007, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched Operations Black Eagle and Lion’s Leap to clear out Mahdi Army fighters. Poland was also involved as it has up to 900 soldiers in the province. The Americans also created some of the first Shiite Sons of Iraq units in Diwaniyah, to counter the Sadrists. In March 2008 tensions escalated again, when the head of the Sadrist office in the province was arrested, leading to shootouts between the two sides. When the government launched Operation Knight’s Charge in Basra, the fighting spread to Diwaniyah as well. Just a few days ago in July, security forces arrested a Sadrist cleric for criticizing the prime minister and governor of Diwaniyah.
The Shiite messianic group the Soldiers of Heaven has also had a presence in the province. In January 2008 when the Soldiers of Heaven clashed with government forces, there was fighting in Diwaniyah.
It is in provinces like this that the power-struggle between the two major Shiite factions, the SIIC and Sadrists, has played out. The SIIC has always had the upper hand with control of the government, much of the security forces, and the backing of the United States. Sadr was hoping to make inroads in Diwaniyah and other southern provinces in the up coming elections, but after the government’s crackdowns that’s unlikely to happen. Transfer of the province to Iraqi control will continue on with the SIIC’s consolidation of power there.
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