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August 25, 2006
My Dinner With Andre The Terrorist

The Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer reports on the Mahdi Army and the Shi'ite death squads that have turned Baghdad into a sectarian gangland. While Knickmeyer's courage cannot be questioned, her report only echoes what we already know -- that death squads kill without compunction or even the barest excuse of justice, and that stopping them has to be the highest priority for American and Iraqi security forces in the capital:

In a grungy restaurant with plastic tables in central Baghdad, the young Mahdi Army commander was staring earnestly. His beard was closely cropped around his jaw, his face otherwise cleanshaven. The sleeves of his yellow shirt were rolled down to the wrists despite the intense late-afternoon heat. He spoke matter-of-factly: Sunni Arab fighters suspected of attacking Shiite Muslims had no claim to mercy, no need of a trial.

"These cases do not need to go back to the religious courts," said the commander, who sat elbow to elbow with a fellow fighter in a short-sleeved, striped shirt. Neither displayed weapons. "Our constitution, the Koran, dictates killing for those who kill."

His comments offered a rare acknowledgment of the role of the Mahdi Army in the sectarian bloodletting that has killed more than 10,400 Iraqis in recent months. The Mahdi Army is the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now one of the most powerful figures in the country.

The death squads that carry out the extrajudicial killings are widely feared but mysterious. Often, the only evidence is the bodies discovered in the streets. Several commanders in the Mahdi Army said in interviews that they act independently of the Shiite religious courts that have taken root here, meting out street justice on their own with what they believe to be the authorization of Sadr's organization and under the mantle of Islam.

Knickmeyer does paint an interesting portrait of the range of victims that the Mahdis and other terrorist groups kill. It's not all about occupation; the Mahdis has slain people for suspicion of extramarital sex. Two more fortunate Christians were rescued by American forces after having been abducted by the Mahdis for selling alcohol and refusing to stop. This demonstrates that the presence of American forces has little connection to the rising violence, despite some of the rhetoric here at home. Baghdad's sectarian violence more resembles the conflict between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads than a reaction to occupation. The Mahdis want to impose a Taliban-like solution on Iraq and are terrorizing Baghdad to succeed.

If anything, this points to the need for America to ensure that its mission succeeds. We can see what awaits Iraq if we leave before the Iraqis can defend themselves from the ravages of extremists like Moqtada al-Sadr. Our retreat will guarantee the rise of a Shi'ite Taliban, controlled by Teheran and funded through the massive oil reserves in the country. Even if the Kurds could defend an independent slice of Iraq in the north, the Iranian-backed Mahdis and their ilk would seize power in the remaining portion and turn Iraq into a terrorist haven -- and we would abandon the Iraqis to a similar oppression from which we freed them three years ago.

However, none of this is exactly news, and one has to wonder why the Post sent her into this much danger to tell this story. The government has long acknowledged the threat of the militias in Baghdad, and their bloodthirstiness has been well documented. We know that these militias torture their victims and provide them no trial; it didn't take a dinner date with a terrorist to glean that information. It seems like a small payoff for the potential for harm she risked.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 25, 2006 6:22 AM

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» Facing Moqtada from A Newer World
Praktike raises a good point about the situation detailed in this piece from Baghdad by Ellen Knickmeyer. Knickmeyer, who actually has two in depth articles in today’s Washington Post, describes the inner-workings of the Mahdi Army, the militia... [Read More]

Tracked on August 25, 2006 2:45 PM


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