Basra has just emerged from its ‘electricity uprising’, which claimed two lives and saw dozens of injuries. Confrontation has now moved into the provincial council, with some members demanding the resignation of
Confrontation between the Shia parties, who control the local government, built, with accusations hurled between their representatives. The tension climaxed when 14 members of the Islamic Supreme Council, Iraqiya, the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party and others demanded the interrogation of the province’s governor, Shiltagh Abboud, a member of Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list, over his conduct.
One member of the council, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with the governor’s directive, said the issue was an administrative one and claimed there was a conspiracy against the Dawa Party. The oil-rich province has become a stage for the conflicts between the different Shia political parties squabbling over the formation of the central government in Baghdad.
"The council has inherited an empty budget and all sectors were badly suffering. During the year, we worked hard, exerted exceptional efforts and achieved a lot. This has made other jealous,” said the Dawa Party representative, continuing, “They want to remove us from power through a popular revolution under the pretext of a a lack of services and the electricity supply shortage.”
The council member pointed to unnamed parties in the government obstructing the council’s work, adding, "Rocket launchers directed against one of the power stations in Basra were discovered."
Ahmad al-Sulaiti, the council's vice-chairman, and a senior cleric of the Supreme Council, is one of those launching attacks on the performance of Abboud’s administration. His attacks have brought censure from Jabbar Ameen, the Council's chairman from the State of Law coalition, who has orders to limit al-Sulaiti’s powers to solely administrative matters.
“Shiltagh Abboud is not being deliberately targeted,” claimed the controversial al-Sulaiti. “[Abboud’s] office and his powers will be removed only if he fails to answer the questions asked of him during interrogation in a special council session. If he cannot convince the council to vote in his favour, he will be removed.”
Al-Sulaiti noted that Shiltagh "declined to attend the preliminary interrogation session of 8 July but we still insist on his attendance."
Internal council sources told Niqash that a private interrogation session is planned for 26 July at the council's premises.
There are doubts over the council’s ability to achieve their aims of removing Abboud. Fattah al-Musawi, a council member for the Justice and Unity Group, warned that many members had reassessed their opposition to the governor.
"There is a possibility that some council members will abandon their previous positions," he said.
Others speaking from within the council are less confident in Abboud’s ability to hold-off the challenge to his authority.
“Two or three members of the State of Law coalition may join those demanding the removal of the governor," said another council member, who believes that even the Prime Minister’s coalition was unable to escape rifts caused by the electricity crisis.
If State of Law council members abandoned the coalition, Abboud’s position would almost certainly be made untenable, which would be a sharp turnaround from the position in which the coalition found itself after the 2009 provincial elections, when it won 20 of the province’s 35 seats.
Kamel Abboud, a writer and a political analyst familiar with the Supreme Council's internal affairs, sees a change in the political landscape in Basra.
“Parties that were part of the State of Law coalition during the 2009 election have since withdrawn, joining competing lists in this parliamentary election. For example, the Dawa party’s Abdul Kareem al-Anzi's wing is now challenging the governor in the provincial council, demanding his removal.”
The appointment of Khalaf Abdul-Samad, a newly elected member of the State of Law coalition, has been mooted as a possible solution to the crisis but Kamel Abboud ruled this possibility out because it would mean that the State of Law coalition would be “admitting its failure in administrating the province’s affairs.”
After the demand for interrogation, the governor responded by removing Haydar Ali, a member of the Fadhila party, from the position of investment chief. The council was not consulted.
"The governor has given himself the right to appoint and remove administrators and staff without the council's approval. Such decisions are not within his powers,” complained al-Sulaiti.
The dismissal means that the Fadhila party no longer possesses the necessary quorum of members of the investment commission to validate its proceedings.
Jafar Muhammad Baqir, a member of Basra council, denied any political motivation behind the governor's decision.
"The removal decision was right and those who fail in developing the city must be removed. Those who refused to endorse the decision are politically motivated and they are driven by narrow partisan interests," he claimed.
Abbas al-Jurani, a member of the communist party's local committee in Basra, said that the conflicts “may send the wrong signals to investors and exacerbate the deterioration of service in the country’s ‘economic capital.’”
He told Niqash that he feels divisions in its provincial council curse Basra.
“Like before, this will have a negative impact on service delivery to citizens as well as investors,” he said.
“The council's role should be limited to services only and it should not get involved in politics."
A seemingly lofty ideal in Iraq’s current political crisis.