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August 11, 2004
Day Of Reckoning For Sadr?

Reuters reports that the US Marines are poised to deliver a final resolution to part-time insurrectionist Moqtada al-Sadr:

U.S. marines said on Wednesday they were preparing a final assault on Iraqi Shi'ite militia in the holy city of Najaf, after a radical cleric ordered his men to keep fighting even if he was killed. ...

"Iraqi and U.S. forces are making final preparations as we get ready to finish this fight that the Moqtada militia started," Colonel Anthony Haslam, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Najaf, said in a statement.

Haslam gave few details, but his threats and Sadr's defiance have raised the stakes in a battle that is the toughest test yet for Allawi's six-week-old government.

Most of Sadr's men and the young cleric himself are holed up around Najaf's ancient Shi'ite cemetery or the adjoining Imam Ali Shrine. Storming such holy symbols could touch off a firestorm among Iraq's majority Shi'ite community.

As I noted earlier, Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi declared the Imam Ali mosque and its environs an open area for battle as Sadr continued to use it for a military base of operations. This freed the Iraqi/US security forces to finally clear the mosque of its Mahdi infestation. Allawi is bright enough to understand the risks of attacking the shrine, but the risks of doing nothing while Sadr foments armed insurrection are far greater. No government can tolerate that and remain in power; eventually, people understand that the government is too weak to enforce their own laws, and they gravitate to wherever power accumulates.

If the handcuffs are truly off, then Moqtada al-Sadr is (as my blog-friend Brant puts it at SWLiP) Moqtada al-Toast. We'll see. The Marines will leave no doubt about where power lies in Iraq, if they are allowed to do so.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 11, 2004 10:19 AM

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