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February 8, 2007
Baghdad Surge Targets Political Figures

The US and Iraqi forces have not limited the new full-court press in Baghdad to just the foot soldiers of the insurgencies and independent militias, but also to those who give them political cover. The arrest of a near-Cabinet-level official in a raid specifically targeting the minister shows that the surge aims higher than expected:

US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad have arrested the deputy health minister during a raid at his offices. The minister, Hakem al-Zamili, is a key member of the political group led by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

He is accused of aiding Shia militiamen and using ambulances to move weapons, a ministry source told the BBC. ...

Iraqi officials say US and Iraqi troops broke down doors in the ministry's offices in central Baghdad in their search for Mr Zamili.

The minister and some of his guards were arrested.

This seems very significant. Certainly few people expected the new military strategy to have this wide of a scope. In fact, Moqtada al-Sadr, who recently welcomed the surge strategy, strenuously objected to his ally getting caught in its net. Some speculated that Sadr supported the surge as a means of purging his own ranks of uncontrolled elements, but if so, it's not going according to plan. He accused the US of deliberately provoking a confrontation with his organization.

The arrest calls into question Nouri al-Maliki's alliance with Sadr as well. The cleric had helped carry Maliki into the position of Prime Minister when it appeared he would not have the votes to win it. He has provided political and military cover for Sadr, insisting at one time that the Americans abandon their efforts to attack Mahdi Army elements in Baghdad. Now he not only has unleashed US and Iraqi forces, he has allowed -- for the moment -- the arrest of a high-ranking minister selected by Sadr as the spoils of the political victory.

If nothing else, it shows that Maliki took President Bush seriously when Bush warned him of dwindling American patience for the Iraqi internal violence. That must have been some conversation in November, and now we understand why Sadr was so bitterly opposed to Maliki's meeting with Bush at the time. He must have known what the meeting would produce.

Will Maliki remain firm? He really has little choice. If he tries to stop the surge now that it has begun, he will lose his American support. Even if Bush didn't order the withdrawal himself for reneging on their agreement, the US political situation would force Bush's hand. A withdrawal of US forces from Baghdad will devastate the Iraqi government, and the first victim of that would be Nouri al-Maliki. His best bet for survival is the success of the US operation in Baghdad, and he needs to hang on until the end of the ride.

Maliki knows it, and so does Sadr. Regardless of whether the US intended a direct confrontation with Sadr, we'll probably get it. A success here will leave Sadr severely weakened, if not arrested or dead, a message we sent with the arrest of Zamili today.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 8, 2007 5:07 AM

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