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October 6, 2004
Sadr City Gets The Message

A few days after the lightning-quick recapture and liberation of Samarra from terrorist thugs, the residents of Sadr City have suddenly launched a cease-fire negotiation with the Iraqi government. Reports conflict about whether an agreement has actually been reached, but the Iraqi PM left no doubt as to who initiated the talks:

The Iraqi government and followers of Muqtada al-Sadr were nearing agreement on a formula to end weeks of clashes between U.S. forces and the radical cleric's militia in the Sadr City district of the capital, representatives of both sides said Wednesday. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told reporters there was no cease-fire between the two sides but that a committee was being formed to discuss what he termed an "initiative" by the "people of Sadr City" to end the conflict.

"There is a committee being formed to discuss the details and the timing," Allawi said. "Once the committee will convene, then everything would end."

Earlier Wednesday, Kareem al-Bakhatti, a pro-al-Sadr tribal elder who has been trying to bring the two sides together, said an agreement had been reached and would be formally announced in city mosques. Under the plan, militia fighters loyal to the influential cleric would turn in their weapons in exchange for cash payments and immunity from prosecution for most of his followers, al-Bakhatti said. Iraqi police would take over security responsibilities in Sadr City and American forces would only enter the district with the approval of Iraqi authorities, he said.

However, Ali Smeiem, chief negotiator for al-Sadr's camp, insisted Wednesday that there was no agreement but that negotiations were in the "final stages" and a deal could be announced within the next two to three days.

I think that the Sadr City residents and the Mahdi Army remnants among them never thought that Allawi and the US could build a credible Iraqi security force that would actually fight for the interim government and the establishment of a democratic government. Sadr knew from Najaf that small contingents could be drawn from the population to screen mosques, but Samarra showed everyone the growing power and confidence of the US-trained Iraqi troops. And everyone in Sadr City knew that their number would either be up next, or shortly after Fallujah.

The capitulation of Sadr City would provide another tremendous boost for the US and the Allawi government. Not only would it help the Coalition secure Baghdad and eliminate some, if not most, of the terrorist attacks in the high-profile city, it would allow the US and Iraqi forces to focus on Fallujah immediately. Fallujah presents a more straightforward strategic target than Sadr City, which integrates tightly into Baghdad and would have presented more difficulties in securing communications.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 6, 2004 12:06 PM

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