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Iraq's Shiites split violently

Moqtada al-Sadr's militia clashed with Badr fighters, revealing a Shiite divide over the new draft charter.

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A Shiite political battle - ostensibly over constitutional differences - erupted between two powerful militias and spread throughout Iraq Wednesday night and Thursday.

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army locked horns with the Badr Brigade, the militia of the ruling Shiite religious party the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), signaling that the fight for control of a new Iraq goes beyond the conflict between Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd.

The fighting in southern and central Iraq, where at least nine Iraqis were killed, springs from an emerging power struggle between Mr. Sadr's movement and SCIRI.

The two groups have been at loggerheads since Sadr's militia won popular support after confronting US forces last August in the city of Najaf. The Badr forces have seen their influence rise after the SCIRI slate swept January's elections.

Politically, Sadr and the ruling Shiite parties have battled throughout the drafting of Iraq's constitution. Sadr has forcefully objected to a SCIRI-backed provision expanding federalism to give the Kurdish north and Shiite south semiautonomous status.

Just last week Sadr and imams loyal to him led protests after Friday prayers where hundreds of followers chanted, "No! No! Federalism, Yes! Yes! Unity." More demonstrations were planned for Friday to protest the lack of basic services like electricity and water.

While Iraqi officials said Monday they would finish the draft of the constitution by Thursday at midnight, by the Monitor's deadline it appeared no progress had been made.

For the fighting that broke out Wednesday night in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Sadr blamed Badr Brigade leaders, and vice versa.

Abbas Rubaie, the political director of the Sadr movement, said Thursday that Badr Brigade members, with the help of local police and approval of the SCIRI-loyal local governor, attacked a Sadr office in Najaf, killing guards and several men inside.

Fighting cooled Thursday afternoon after Sadr issued a statement calling for calm. He thanked the government for their calls for peace, but not "the interior minister," Mr. Rubaie said, reading a statement from the cleric. The interior ministry, controlled by SCIRI, runs the police forces and is believed by many Iraqis to be dominated by the Badr Brigade.

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