July 9, 2007

Brother Moqtada's Traveling Salvation Show

Moqtada al-Sadr has once again fled to Iran, apparently after a split widened in recent weeks between the leader of the Mahdi Army and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sadr's support had been seen as key for Maliki early in his term, but with the US pressuring Maliki for serious reform and reconciliation, Sadr and his militias have come under increasing military and political pressure:

Fiery Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has gone back to neighbouring Iran, U.S. military sources in Baghdad said on Sunday.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials said the anti-American cleric was hiding in Iran to avoid a major security crackdown in Baghdad, although his aides say he never left Iraq. ...

His lower profile has coincided with a growing rift between his movement and Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Sadr pulled his six ministers out of Maliki's cabinet in April when the prime minister refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The cleric's political bloc has boycotted parliament since an attack on a revered Shi'ite mosque last month in the city of Samarra and most recently rejected a landmark draft oil law.

It looks like Sadr has overplayed his hand. Had Sadr pulled his ministers out of the government six months ago, Maliki might have lost his position. Now it looks as though Maliki has successfully marginalized Sadr and found enough support to form a governing coalition without him.

That puts Sadr in a tough position, both politically and militarily. It shows that the Shi'ites may have tired of Sadr's "fiery" oratory and might have more interest in burying the hatchet than previously thought. Iraqis want an end to war, and that won't happen as long as Sadr continues with his militias-cum-death squads. Pushing Sadr out of the coalition could create a center of reconciliation in the National Assembly, especially if the surge can hold down the violence to keep the retribution attacks to a minimum.

Militarily, it makes it easier to go after the Mahdis. If Sadr isn't necessary for Maliki to maintain his position, then the US can go on the offensive against Sadr's forces in Baghdad with much less concern over the political fallout. That seems to be what we're seeing; recent reports show that the US controls 50% of Baghdad, and recent troop arrivals promise even more stability.

None of this matters if the Iraqis don't make quick improvements on several political fronts. They have to get some sort of oil revenue plan implemented -- which Sadr had blocked -- and find a way to re-engage the Sunnis in public life. The Sunnis need a reason to work with the Shi'ites, and the Shi'ites need to give up their revenge fantasies if they want a stable Iraq.

And don't count Sadr out. He's a cat with more than nine lives, at least thus far. A few more escapes to Iran, though, and even his followers will have trouble ignoring the streak of yellow that has become more and more apparent. And as Bill Roggio notes at The Fourth Rail, these "successful disappearances" make it clear that Sadr's nationalism is all on the surface.


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Comments (16)

Posted by crossdotcurve | July 9, 2007 6:36 AM

It sure is easy to support a war...as long as someone else has to do the fighting.

Rumsfeld and Cheney fubared it. The president was too weak and incurious to change course when it could of mattered.

And his WingNut supporters simply cheered it on in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was failing.

The blood is on all of their hands...

Posted by KauaiBoy | July 9, 2007 7:36 AM

Let's hope he "diasappears" for good this time.

Posted by Lew | July 9, 2007 8:22 AM

Every war in the history of humanity has been fought by less than 10% of the populace (most of the time by less than 1%) and supported or resisted by the other 90-99%. What's your point?

The current administration came into office with an agenda not unlike any other administration in history, and then had it totally blown out of reality by events that they didn't see coming. Their response has been spotty and inconsistent and sometimes downright terrible and as a result our enemies both here and abroad are stronger than they should be. The problem isn't that they've made mistakes in the field of tactics and strategy, its that they've made mistakes in the field of politics. And now we're faced with a situation where a substantial portion of Americans either don't know or refuse to believe the cost of another betrayal.

As far as having blood on one's hands is concerned, don't worry there'll be plenty to go around. And I'd rather have blood on my hands standing up for something, than blood on my hands from the sniveling betrayal of 26 million people who believed in me when I told them I'd be there for them. You take your pick, but remember; your choices define you!

Posted by liontooth | July 9, 2007 9:24 AM

Sadr's RETREAT may be the latest evidence that 'the surge' and Petraeus are winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi 'street'

According to 2 recent blogs, the Iraqis are viewing the US as the strongest tribe in Iraq:

'...convinced the tribes the American military was, as one tribal leader said to me, "the strongest tribe". '

"In the context of sectarian and tribal strife, we are the tribe that people can—more or less and with giant caveats—rely on."

Could it be that the ship (the Mahdi Army) is starting to sink and its Captain (Sadr), isn't willing to go down with his ship?

Posted by Linh_My | July 9, 2007 9:37 AM


I agree. Everyone makes mistakes, even in their own field. Having said that, for a professional politician, Bush has made far too many political mistakes. On Iraq, we should have gone in prepared for a hundred year war or not gone in.

Posted by Ned | July 9, 2007 10:02 AM

"On Iraq, we should have gone in prepared for a hundred year war or not gone in."

Who says we wern't prepared for a hundred year war? The President knew the American Public wouldn't buy that, so he sold it a different way. That is what leaders do and I am glad he did. Personally I wish we were more aggressive with Syria and Iran from the start, but I ain't in charge.

"It sure is easy to support a war...as long as someone else has to do the fighting."

It is even easier to not support a war... as long as someone else has to do the fighting.

Posted by liontooth | July 9, 2007 10:38 AM

Who says we wern't prepared for a hundred year war?

Replacing Bremer with Garner is evidence they weren't prepared. And I'm NOT saying Garner should have been replaced.

All of the postwar planing should have been finalized months before the war started. When you're starting from scratch (Bremer) months AFTER, there is something seriously wrong.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | July 9, 2007 10:59 AM

RE: liontooth (July 9, 2007 10:38 AM)
"All of the postwar planing should have been finalized months before the war started. When you're starting from scratch (Bremer) months AFTER, there is something seriously wrong."

Just like no war plan survives its first contact with the enemy, I figure no peace plan survives its first contact with the "vanquished."

In recent history in the same theater with many of the same players (a Bush Presidency being one), the U.S. was unwilling/unable to remove the Hussein regime with a vastly larger force. That was one plan. The post-war peace ultimately failed. More recently another plan was invoked. It is still proceeding. It has not failed. History will judge ultimate success or failure and, no matter the design, the process and outcome is unpredictable. History never really repeats. Neither can any plan or outcome be definitive.

Posted by liontooth | July 9, 2007 11:09 AM

AnonymousDrivel wrote:
"Just like no war plan survives its first contact with the enemy, I figure no peace plan survives its first contact with the "vanquished."

It's one thing to change a 'plan'. It's another when EVERYTHING, including all the personel, was also changed.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | July 9, 2007 11:21 AM

If personnel are wedded to a plan that is trending "poorly'," you may need to change the personnel too. Lot's of moving parts here and not all of them work well together. If one team brought in a Ferrari and support crew expecting a smooth path, and it turns out it was a baja outback instead, well you'll need to switch the specialists from top to bottom too. A crude metaphor, but not too inapplicable.

Posted by Okonkolo | July 9, 2007 12:07 PM

Capt. said:
None of this matters if the Iraqis don't make quick improvements on several political fronts.

The big IF in the above sentence is the problem.
This is the whole point of the surge, to buy the Iraqis time and give them enough security to make significant political progress, and so far that has been a failure, and not many see any significant political progress coming in the near future. For all the security advances and military engagements, the Iraqi political progress has been disappointing to say the least, which is dooming the surge to failure. In response, the WH has been trying to tamp down expectations, which is a little hard after they pumped up expectations to get support for the surge. They have tried to restart the clock on the surge, but patience is running out, and the broken record of "six more months" has long worn out its welcome. Sadr leaving and returning is a sideshow to bigger problem, and a majority of Americans are tired of seeing our troops die in what appears to be a civil war that the US military cannot resolve by itself.

Posted by courtneyme109 | July 9, 2007 1:56 PM

Maybe that's the plan all along - knock out the largest Army the Arab world has ever seen in 20 days, try and establish a wonderful Disneyland type modern ME - if that doesn't happen overnight - so what?

The truth is that Iraq has become a giant sucking killing machine for wanna be jihadis, Syrian and Iranian proxies. Iraq is a quagmire all right - but not for the Great Satan. Witness how Iran is straining under the burden of trying to keep their people somewhat happy while maintaining expensive, non profitable ventures like the HAMAS, the Hiz'B'Allah, SCIRI, Mahdi Army, Badr Army Corps and nearly two dozen groups, splinter groups - essentially any doofus with an AK. And for what? Not one caliphate, theocracy anywhere that Iran has meddled with in the ME (except that little rats nest called Gaza and Hiz'B'Allahland in Leb ) and no Iranian leaning super shia majority in Iraq either.

Al Sadr is about as safe as drinking anti freeze to his minions. All the guy has done is gather his minions in one place for the sons of the Great Satan to show up and kill them off by the truck load. The Mahdi Army 1.0 at Najaf, the 2.0 in Karbala, the 3.0 in Sadr City, the 4.0 in Najaf (remix) and now back at Sadr City again. One could almost think he's an agent of the ungodly, unislamic, infidel Americans.

Surge? Stay the Course? It's all the same and al Sadr is being marginalized by events. Going to Iraq for jihad is now a dumb thing in the Arab street. End up on the side of the road left for strangers to bury.

Posted by Lew | July 9, 2007 4:22 PM


Yes, unfortunately this is another one of those instances in American History when the troops on the ground are far more competent than the people at the top. And understand, I take no great pleasure in saying that because I've supported this war, and this President, from day one and still do. Not because I think he's anything heroic but because, even with all his towering shortcomings, he's far superior to the disgusting alternatives available when the choices had to be made. The problem with George is the same problem that Lyndon and Dick and Harry had when it was their turns; they don't know how, or haven't the ability, to lead America through a war and they don't realize that it requires a unique set of abilities and talents. This isn't like other countries, we can't be administered or managed or smoozed to victory. We have to be lead and the President has to do it and we refuse to do it any other way. Washington and Lincoln and Churchill and Roosevelt knew how to do it, but no one since has.

Your remark about the "hundred years war" is also interesting, but I think it concerns the wrong dimension. Instead of a longer war, I would have planned for a wider one. Instead of more years, I would have included more countries. I say this because the other great lesson of the last half-century that I think is slowly becoming more apparent, is that wars can't be fought on the cheap or with an eye to "measured economy of force". Rumsfeld was wrong; war requires overkill. Intellectuals may cluck in their sherry about using a sledgehammer to kill a cockroach, but when the deed is done the cockroach is beyond dispute as to whether or not he's dead. Iran needs to be struck and struck so hard that nobody will much care about what some Iranian faction or group thinks about us for doing it.

That's my take anyway. Good Luck!

Posted by Joe | July 9, 2007 8:22 PM

Lew, we can invade and conquer countries in the Middle East all day long, what happens when we leave? They go right back to their tribal traditions and culture. Armies can't change cultures, thats why Iraq has been a fiasco. Destroy terrorist camps with Special Forces when we detect them, but occupation is ludicrous. France, England, and now the US have sent armies into Arabian lands, its never worked. Why would it work this time. Bush has lost the American people on this blunder, he might end up dragging his party down with his mis-adventure in Iraq.

Posted by Lew | July 9, 2007 8:56 PM

Joe, who said anything about occupying Iran?

I said they needed to be hit and hit devastatingly hard.That country is a balloon waiting to be popped and we need to let them know we are quite prepared to use any force at our command in order to change their support for terrorist groups. And I do mean ANY force!

We don't need to occupy the place, we need to interdict it both militarily and politically. The crucial element however is overwhelming force applied with maximum violence. We need to scare these people so bad that they'll wet their pants when we look at them the wrong way. Half hearted politically correct campaigns, surgically designed around "economy of force" theories, are just a new name for dribbling our forces into the fight piecemeal and losing the battle. That's never worked before and it isn't going to work now and its long past time we gave up on it. Its time to get out the hammer and tell the ladies to wait in the parlor while we attend to business.

I don't care about changing culture, I'm interested in changing government policy. Stop supporting terrorist movements - period! Its not hard to get the idea across. What's hard to get across is our credibility when we keep sniveling and delivering little taps and then asking if they'd like to talk about it.

And by the way, asking Iran if they'd like to help us establish a stable representative government in Iraq, is like asking Jesse James if he'd like to help guard the bank vault while we go pee! Puleeze!

Posted by Terry Gain | July 9, 2007 10:41 PM

Contrary to Joe's assertion the United States did not set out to conquer Iraq. It set out to remove a terrorist supporting regime which was an avowed enemy and which would now be well on its way to having nuclear weapons. If you doubr this read McGrory and Bhattia's book Saddam's Bomb.

The plan was not to conquer Iraq but to help Iraqis establish a democracy. And no Joe, again contrary to your assertion, this has never been tried before in the middle east. The claim that the war has been a disaster because a peaceful democracy has not been established in four 4 years is ludicrous.

Sunni Muslims are fighting al Qaeda, Zawahari is whining about the lack of recruits (willing to die for his insane goals) al Qaeda's reputation and standing among Muslims is in the toilet and Iraqis are making steady, if slow, political progress and yet the mission is considered lost? By what rational standard?

And BTW as is obvious to anyone who reads Roggio the war is clearly being won. Iraq is indeed a quagmire -for al Qaeda.