It was with surprise and then relief yesterday that I saw the news that the UN’s top representative in Iraq, Ad Melkert, and the chief of Najaf’s police had emerged unscathed from a car bomb targeting their convoy as it left the Shi’ite holy city in Southern Iraq:
While roadside bombings occur daily in Iraq — there were at least six reports of roadside attacks throughout the country on Tuesday — they are far less common in Najaf, a relatively peaceful Shiite holy city where Mr. Melkert traveled to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a powerful Shiite spiritual leader.
After a three-hour meeting in Ayatollah Sistani’s offices, Mr. Melkert would not comment on what the men discussed. He urged Iraq’s politicians to end the stalemate that has gone on since parliamentary elections last March failed to hand a majority to any political bloc. Iraqi and foreign officials worry about rising levels of violence and unrest amid the power vacuum.
Despite his widespread influence among thousands of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, Ayatollah Sistani has remained all but silent during the postelection political jockeying. He urged Iraqis to vote in the elections but refused to throw his support behind any electoral coalition.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose political coalition finished narrowly behind the leading vote-getter, has gained the support of Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric, and has spent the last week traveling to Jordan and Iran to shore up support for his bloc.
Melkert is a long-time friend of TWN Publisher Steve Clemons, and he spoke eloquently at the New America Foundation last November on the challenges facing Iraq. While we here at TWN are glad to hear he is safe, this attack underscores not only the immense risk posed to Iraq stability by violent spoiler groups, but also the urgent need to form a stable Iraqi government that can withstand such pressures.
— Andrew Lebovich