Well, so much for the whole 72 virgins thing and the radical Islamist desire to die in martyrdom:
The story tonight in Iraq is not the arrival of more U.S. troops, but the departure of one of the country's most powerful men, Moqtada al Sadr and members of his army.
According to senior military officials al Sadr left Baghdad two to three weeks ago, and fled to Tehran, Iran, where he has family.
Al Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, one of the most formidable insurgent militias in Iraq, and his move coincides with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad.
Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."
Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.
This couldn't have come at a better time. Congress has tied itself in knots trying to opine on what a disaster the surge will be, and before they can vote on a resolution scolding George Bush for wasting resources, he's already chased one of the worst actors out of Baghdad. Nancy Pelosi will be holding a debate to disapprove of a strategy that has already demonstrated success.
And as for Sadr, this will destroy him and his Mahdi Army. ABC reports that Sadr wants to try to run the Mahdis from Teheran, but his credibility as a jihadi just tanked. Who's going to fight for someone who won't stand up for himself?
And the Iranians surely have to be thumping their foreheads over his bug-out. The US had just demonstrated that the Iranians had backed the insurgencies, which the Iranians disputed, and the chief of the Shi'ite militias announces that he's going to become a remote-control general from their turf. It's going to be very difficult for anyone to pretend that Iran has not actively fueled the insurgencies while Moqtada directs his armies by long-distance telephone calls.
This demonstrates that the US forces have seized the initiative in Baghdad, and that the Maliki government has apparently completely abandoned Sadr. It's a tremendous victory in the preliminary stages, and it sets the table for an end to the hottest part of the insurgencies in the Iraqi capital. (via Power Line)
UPDATE: His supporters claim Sadr is still in Iraq:
An Iraqi government official said al-Sadr was in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Tuesday night, when he received delegates from several government departments. The official, who is familiar with one of those meetings, spoke on condition of anonymity because he has no authority to disclose information on his department's activities.
The denials came after a senior U.S. official said Tuesday that al-Sadr left his Baghdad stronghold some weeks ago and is believed to be in Tehran, where he has family.
That should be pretty easy to confirm. Let him hold a press conference in Najaf -- he's safe enough doing that. He's not exactly been a shrinking violet in either Najaf or Baghdad, and if he's still in Iraq, he can confirm it rather quickly.