In southern Iraq, the head of a provincial council said its government might cut its oil flow and close down highways to Baghdad to protest Allawi’s cooperation with Marines in Najaf.

The national interim government, said Ali al Musawi, is “an illegal and unelected Iraqi government that came in the name of an occupying force that claimed it wanted to liberate Iraq but has come to kill the sons of Iraq.”

Al Musawi’s province, Maysan, includes the city of Amarah, which has been the scene of recent clashes between al-Sadr’s fighters and British troops.

There was no indication Tuesday that al Musawi’s words would result in any concrete action, but they showed a growing erosion of support for Allawi and the U.S.-backed plan for the transition to Iraqi self-rule. ~ Kansas City Star, August 10, 2004

In spite of the assurances of the Iraqi minister for provinces, Waeil Abdel-Latif, that al Musawi’s views carry no real weight, the danger of alienating southern provincial figures by continuing to fight in Najaf seems all too real. Though apparently not confirmed by American or European media as of yet, has reported the following today:

Deputy Governor of Basra Salam Uda al-Maliki has said he is to announce the separation of some Iraqi southern governorates from the central government in Baghdad.

Informed sources told Aljazeera that al-Maliki said the breakaway province would include Basra, Misan and Dhi Qar governorates.

He also wants to shut Basra’s port, and effectively stop oil exports.

Al-Maliki said the decision was taken because the Iraqi interim government is “responsible for the Najaf clashes”.

Obviously, this would herald massive resistance to the “interim” government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on a scale not imagined since the earlier confluence of Sadr’s uprising and the intense fighting in Fallujah this past April. The threat to the central government’s oil revenue will not go unanswered by the center and its backers in Washington, which presents Iraq with the first real danger of a violent sectional division and the prospect of a separatist war. It also presents Mr. Bush with the unpleasant prospect of having to crush Shi’i dissidents in much the same way as they have been crushed in the past. Were the south successful in such an attempt to separate, however temporary this might be, Allawi’s government and the American mission in Iraq will have utterly failed in every respect.

The fighting in Najaf has caused needless turmoil that jeopardises any possibility of making any progress on the political track in the development of Iraq, just as the siege of Fallujah very nearly scuppered the erstwhile “transition,” only in this case the consequences appear to be potentially much more severe and dangerous. If the President desires the slightest success from his Iraq debacle, he will halt operations against Najaf and prevent further deterioration of the political situation. If he wishes for disaster on the eve of the election, he can proceed on this current, misguided course.