The row between Moqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has subsided, thanks to the country’s top Shiite Cleric Ali Sistanti.
Sistani, who resides in the Shiite city of Najaf, has mediated a settlement between the Shiite rivals.
Sadr, who commands one of the country’s most fearsome militias, had suspended the participation of his 30 deputies in parliamentary deliberations and withdrawn his six ministers from Maliki’s government.
Sadr apparently suspected that Maliki was behind the low-key military action by U.S. occupation troops against his militias, known as Mahdi Army.
But the sides have mended their differences, albeit temporarily. The move signals that Sadr is willing to take part in the political process, a bid analysts see as a new tactic to thwart U.S. insistence that Maliki disarm his militias.
To appease the Kurds, Maliki’s allies, Sadr has even indicated a change of heart regarding paragraph 140 of the constitution under which the government is obliged to hold a referendum to determine the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a referendum the Kurds say they are certain to win.
Kirkuk today was scene of devastating car bombings in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed and injured.
Sadr’s signal that he would support holding of a referendum in Kirkuk is good news for Kurds who would like to add the city to their semi-independent enclave in northern Iraq.
Many of the tens of thousands of Arabs moved to Kirkuk under former leader Saddam Hussein are Muslim Shiites and diehard supporters of Sadr.
If a referendum is held and these Arabs vote for the city to become part of the Kurdish territory, the Kurds would definitely end up with a comfortable majority in the controversial referendum scheduled late this year.
Opposition to Kurdish ambition to link Kirkuk and its prolific oil fields to their enclave in the north now comes from Sunni Arab tribes, mostly inhabiting the city outskirts as well as Iraqi Turkmen.