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January 22, 2007
A Bigger Mistake By Maliki

The Iraqi government appeared to be taking the fight against the Mahdi Army and Moqtada al-Sadr seriously ... for a week or so. Yesterday, they took one gigantic step backwards when they announced that Sadr would rejoin the government, having cut yet another deal to keep from paying the price for his sectarian warfare:

The Iraqi Government announced a deal to bring Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr back into the political fold yesterday, even as violence spread farther across the country.

The populist Shia cleric’s six Cabinet ministers and 30 MPs ended their boycott of government and parliamentary activities, begun last November, when they protested at a meeting between Nouri alMaliki, the Prime Minister, and President Bush in Jordan. ...

The violence came as more than 3,000 US paratroops arrived in Baghdad to take part in the new Baghdad security plan with which Mr al-Maliki hopes to restore order to the capital. The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division is the first of five to be deployed alongside nine Iraqi brigades in Baghdad. As the US death toll reached 3,044 an opinion poll by Newsweek magazine found 68 per cent of respondents opposed to the decision by President Bush to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, with 26 per cent in support.

The polling won't improve if the Iraqis keep cutting deals with Sadr. The Shi'ite death squads and the Mahdi Army get their orders from the same person, and as long as he keeps returning to power, his minions will continue doing exactly what they're doing now. Sadr has the Ministry of the Interior infiltrated enough to compromise the Iraqi police in Baghdad, and his continued influence in the national assembly will serve to retain that influence.

The timing of the return does prompt some questions, though. Maliki and the US just launched the "surge" operations and have Sadr's forces on the run or underground. One would not expect to see Sadr cutting deals at this stage, but rather extending his protest and perhaps forcing the collapse of Maliki's government. Instead, while Maliki and the US are attempting to push his forces out of Baghdad, he rejoins Maliki's government.

Why? Could the surge be more of a purge, as one CQ commenter put it recently? Did Sadr lose control of his forces, or at least some of his commanders, and has Maliki cut a deal between the US and Sadr to destroy the Mahdis, or at least certain rogue members of its leadership?

It's apparent that something odd is going on between Maliki and Sadr, but whatever the case, Sadr continues to be the center of Shi'a extremism in Iraq. We tried cutting deals with Sadr twice before, and both times we have had reason to rue the consequences. The only strategy with a promise of success against the violence in Baghdad is to ensure the permanent removal of Sadr from positions of power and to force him back into the role of general -- a role he has retained despite his political veneer.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 22, 2007 5:07 AM

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