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June 11, 2004
Al-Sadr Blinks?

Moqtada al-Sadr surprised followers and opponents alike today when he used his Friday sermon to endorse the American plan to hand sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government:

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has reportedly backed for the first time US moves to gradually hand powers over to an interim Iraqi government. The change of heart came in a sermon at Friday prayers in the town of Kufa, two weeks after the government was formed.

Mr Sadr, a firebrand whose militia has fought US forces since March, called for a new start and an end to conflict, according to witnesses. ... Mr Sadr called upon the interim government to work to end the occupation according to a timetable set by Iraqi officials, reported a correspondent for Voice of Mujahidin radio present at the sermon.

Mr Sadr added that the formation of the government was a good opportunity to bury past differences and "forge ahead toward the building of a unified Iraq".

Even Sadr's conciliatory speech couldn't suspend the fighting near the holy shrines, but it demonstrates that Sadr finally realizes that the nature of his conflict has changed. When he began his armed insurgency, he decided that the Americans would not give up the occupation on their own. Now that the Iraqis have formed a government without him but with the qualified support of his biggest rival, Ali al-Sistani, Sadr knows he missed the boat. Unfortunately, he's lost hundreds if not thousands of his followers in conducting what appears to be little more than suicide missions against a vastly superior force, meaning that he has lost almost all credibility with Iraqis outside the al-Mehdi "army".

Sadr now wants to get what he can before all opportunity to rise to leadership disappears in the new Iraq. While that ship has already sailed, the Iraqis would be wise to jolly him along until his militias get out of the shrines. Perhaps they could still merge into Iraqi security forces, but somehow I doubt that al-Sistani nor the new Iraqi government would feel terribly secure with them around.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 11, 2004 9:00 PM

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