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August 19, 2004

Moqtada al-Sadr, trying to burnish his credentials as an American-style politician, flip-flopped yet again on his burning desire to foment revolution by giving into his burning desire to remain alive and out of the hands of the Iraqi government tonight. The AP reports that Sadr has ordered his Mahdi militia to abandon the Imam Ali mosque:

Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his fighters Thursday to hand control of a revered Najaf shrine to top Shiite religious authorities, hours after U.S. forces bombed militant positions and Iraq's prime minister made a "final call" for the cleric's militia to surrender. ...

In a speech, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had warned the radical cleric to disarm his forces and withdraw from the shrine after his government threatened to send a massive Iraqi force to root them out.

Defying that ultimatum, al-Sadr sent a telephone text message vowing to seek "martyrdom or victory," and his jubilant followers inside the shrine danced and chanted.

Later in the day, a top al-Sadr aide said the cleric had ordered his militia to relinquish control of the shrine where they have been holed up for two weeks fighting Iraqi and U.S. forces. But in a letter shown by the Arab television station Al-Arabiya, al-Sadr said he would not disband his Al Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr had said in recent days he wanted to make sure the shrine was in the custody of religious authorities, though it was unclear if the government would agree to that.

Two positions in one day? That may yet be a record for Sadr, whose on-again, off-again revolution matched perfectly with the casual ineptness of his Mahdi army and its military generalship. The only field victory Sadr can claim was his occupation of the shrine itself, and that was a desperate move to avoid annihilation. His followers must be confused to get retreat orders from the callow cleric after he exhorted them to defend the mosque to their deaths just hours before.

Somehow, I think the Allawi government will be less confused than Sadr and his henchmen. After a number of such offers to behave, quickly broken, nothing less than a surrender will make much difference now. The government insisted on hearing personally from Sadr and not from aides in order to tie him directly to the negotiations, negating a favorite Sadr tactic of disavowing truce agreements (and I suspect to lure him out).

Others, including the Secretary-General of the Arab League, proclaim great trepidation over a military effort to snuff out Sadr's sedition, predicting that any action will result in a massive Shi'ite uprising throughout Iraq. Possibly. But can anyone think that such a prospect would actually bother the Arab League? More likely the lack of such an uprising, which has been "predicted" for months now, will be exposed for the myth it is if the Allawi government takes on Sadr and quells this rebellion for good. As myths go, this one is powerful and enduring; the pan-Islam-uprising bogeyman has been used to scare Westerners since the turn of the last century, and it still works on the weak-kneed to this day.

Hopefully the Iraqis can salvage the Imam Ali mosque for its historical and artistic value, if not for its religious and cultural significance. However, if they allow their country to be hijacked over one building and refuse to stamp out direct assaults on their authority, they will not face a massive Shi'ite rebellion but a thousand smaller ones which will doom their government and condemn their people to an Islamofascist nightmare.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 19, 2004 8:36 PM

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Is anyone even remotely surprised that Sadr has rejected yet another peace offering? No matter, I sense that today is a day of reckoning. Which is for the best - is it really in the interests of the fledgling Iraqi... [Read More]

Tracked on August 19, 2004 10:54 PM

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