NEWS: Madhi Army makeover; Kirkuk’s Arab-Kurdish divide

Sadr militia moves to clean house

Militia commander Abu Maha had studied his quarry carefully, watching as the man acquired fancy suits, gold watches and the street name “Master.” Now, heavily armed and dressed in an Adidas track suit, Abu Maha told his followers it was time to act against one of their comrades.

A dozen of them gripped their assault rifles and headed out. The Master, accused of sliding into immoral behavior after stoutly defending Shiite Muslims in Iraq’s sectarian violence, was about to learn that justice in the Mahdi Army could be very rough.

Fighters such as Abu Maha have taken on a new role in recent months in the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. Instead of battling Sunni insurgents and U.S. troops, they are now weeding out what they consider to be black sheep within their ranks. [complete article]

As Iraqis vie for Kirkuk’s oil, Kurds become pawns

Even by the skewed standards of a country where millions are homeless or in exile, the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium is a startling sight.

On the outskirts of a city adjoining some of Iraq’s most lucrative oil reserves, a rivulet of urine flows past the entrance to the barren playing field.

There are no spectators, only 2,200 Kurdish squatters who have converted the dugouts, stands and parking lot into a refugee city of cinder-block hovels covered in Kurdish political graffiti, some for President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

These homeless Kurds are here not for soccer but for politics. They are reluctant players in a future referendum to decide whether oil-rich Tamim Province in the north and its capital, Kirkuk, will become part of the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government or remain under administration by Baghdad.

Under the Iraqi Constitution the referendum is due before Dec. 31. But in a nation with a famously slow political clock, one of the few things on which Kirkuk’s Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities agree is that yet another political deadline is about to be missed. [complete article]

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