Final Exam?

"Mr Maliki has been under heavy pressure from the US to crack down on Shia militias ever since he took power last summer and the beginning of this year is widely viewed as his last chance to demonstrate that is serious about imposing the authority of a non-sectarian state, as opposed to helping the Shia to win a sectarian civil war.

The prime minister, whose government has in the past been accused of protecting leaders of the Sadrists’ Mahdi Army militia and blocking operations in their support base of Sadr City, has recently suggested that he may have authorized more wide-ranging operations against the radical Shia movement. Two days ago, he said that over 400 Mahdi Army fighters had recently been arrested.

The prime minister may be reluctant to explicitly declare an offensive against the Mahdi Army, which many Baghdad Shia have seen as their first line of defense against Sunni militants who have targeted Shia mosques, religious ceremonies and other civilian targets for the past three years.

The Sadrists for their part say that they are under a crackdown.

One resident of Sadr City said that the movement’s rank-and-file had largely disappeared from the streets, and that the leaders believed that they were being hunted and were keeping a low profile.

The Sadrists also say that they have received instructions from Moqtada al-Sadr, the young radical cleric who at least nominally commands the movement, not to resist or provoke the Americans."  FT


"Recently?"  How recently?  Last week?  Last month? Last year? 

It is clear that Maliki understands that the Americans are now judging him in the matter of his willingness to act against Shia forces, any Shia forces.

Sadr knows that, and he has told his people to "lay low" and wait for the famously short "attention span" of the Americans to shift to something other than them.

At the same time Maliki has to agree and agree and agree with anything the American command suggests in the way of offensive action against the Shia militias.  At the same time he knows that his political position will disintegrate completely if he is seen by his own people as a "servant" of the American occupier.

This must be very difficult for him.  He says he did not want the job.  I would wager that he really feels this way now.

It appears that the arrest of this man was designed by the US as a test, a test to determine just exactly who "owns" Maliki.  There will be other tests.  His fate and the future of American engagement in Iraq will be strongly influenced by the outcome of these tests.  pl

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21 Responses to Final Exam?

  1. parvati_roma says:

    Italian daily La Repubblica has just published a dramatic interview with al Sadr.
    Here’s my translation of the full text:
    Interview with al Sadr in hiding

  2. MarcLord says:

    One thing the Sadrists excel at above all esle: flying back into the walls like cockroaches. While the Sunnis are swept back behind blood borders, they will watch and wait.

  3. Will says:

    Thanks Parvati for the interview w/ Sadr in Repubblica. I checked Nur-alCubicle, who reads the French, Italian, & Spanish press, if she had also translated it. She hadn’t gotten around to it. However in one of her other blogs (infotech babe), i discovered that John Dimitri Negroponte’s brother, Nicholas, is head of the MIT media lab and is in charge on the One Child One Computer Project.
    However, she had picked up this item
    “Premier Prodi .. unpopular decision … enlarge its base in Vicenza. US threatened to move the Vicenza airbase to Germany…
    Protester’s make a good point by saying, “We didn’t elect you to build a new US airbase”.
    “If I were Premier, I might be pretty peeved that naked (????) US airmen were hotdogging their aircraft through the Alps, severing a cable cars loaded with skiers. ….CIA agents from the base kidnapped one of my nationals off the street… I’d be angry that the US was flying bomber squadrons out of my country to drop their payload on Iraq….. ”
    The prosecutor involed in the cable severance case was a marine reservist and assistant DA. He was a friend. He never said anything about the guys flying “naked.”
    I wonder if she meant that figuratively or literally? That’s ridiculous, you can’t fly naked, you have to have a decompression suit on, right?
    Oh the Marine lawyer, he got activated after 9.11 and hasn’t been back home yet- not for long anyway.

  4. Will says:

    Clicking on Pavrati Roma’s link went nowhere. He must have made a HTML error. I went into the view HTML mode and extracted the link. Here it is. Again thanks Pavrati.
    Sadrs interview in Repubblica

  5. Will says:

    Al-Sadr is the “George Washington” of the New Irak. And George Dumbya Bush is the “George III.”
    The handwriting is on the wall about the end game. Even Pat Buchanan, who even tho condemning the war ab initio, has said we had to win it, now admits it’s a lost cause.
    ” It is over. What we need to face now are the consequence of the folly of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice in launching this unnecessary and unprovoked war, the folly of the neocon snake oil salesmen who bamboozled the media into believing in this insane crusade to bring democracy to Baghdad in the belly of Bradley fighting vehicles and the folly of the Democratic establishment in handing Bush a blank check for war out of political fear of being called unpatriotic. ”

  6. bg says:

    The detention of Sheik Duraji is a big deal, we’ve been after him for years and never been allowed to get close to him. I do see this detention as a positive indication that Maliki may intend to live up to his part of the bargain and allow targeting of high level Sadrists and Mahdi.
    I tried opening Parvati’s translation of the Sadr interview, I would love to read it but the link doesn’t seem to be working.

  7. FB says:

    Most commentators in the US media don’t seem to know that the Shia in Iraq are not one bloc. Maliki going after the Mahdi army merely strengthens the Badr corps of SCIRI. A report said that the 400 Mahdi militiamen arrested were in the South; that is where a low-level conflict for supremacy has been going on between SCIRI and the Mahdis.
    Maliki (of Dawa) has been doing a balancing act between SCIRI and the Mahdis. Now the US has twisted his arm into taking sides. The pro-Iranian faction in Iraq is SCIRI and not the Mahdis. So, what the US is doing is ensuring the pro-Iranian Shia come out on top at the end.

  8. SusanUnPC says:

    From The Guardian:
    Sadr fears for life in security crackdown
    Moqtada al-Sadr has moved his family to a secure location because of fears he will become the target of a security sweep of Baghdad, it was reported today.
    News of the radical cleric’s decision came as the US military said it had detained a suspected death squad leader.
    Aides to Mr Sadr described the arrest of the man, named as Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, as a “provocation”, saying he was a spokesman for their movement. …

  9. John says:

    I read the comments above and think that Al-Sadr is either a fool or a crafty individual.
    Why do I say this? Only a fool would betray his weakness on the other hand I hear the echo of Sun Tzu — “Where you are strong appear weak.”
    Unlike the idiot prince who was protected his whole life, Al-Sadr has lived and thrived on the streets of Baghdad which is an accomplishment in itself.
    Accordingly, I believe Al-Sadr is being crafty as the fox here and telling the idiot prince what he wants to hear.
    Any thoughts?

  10. parvati_roma says:

    Thanks for kind words and remedial posting Will, and apologies for my html screw-up – I was so amazed and overjoyed I’d actually managed to make the first link work in the preview I didn’t check the second. Blushes – noting btw that I’m a “she” not a “he”.
    Re the Vicenza base enlargement business: BIG kerfuffle here, the former Christian Democrat parties in Prodi’s coalition were for it on the grounds that “we must maintain our international credibility and preserve our traditional alliances” while the more leftish parties in it – including most of the “base” of the largest party (Democratic left) were and are against it, also due to the use of the existing part of the base to send paratroops into Iraq during the invasion. In Vicenza itself, polls show 70% of the population opposed and a national opinion survey showed 55% opposition. There is a call for a national referendum but the Govt. has said their decision is final. However, the campaign against the base’s enlargement will continue, also extending to the question of US bases in Italy in general and NATO in its current form – but probably not to the point of bringing down the Prodi government.. but it’s likely to swing quite a few votes from center-left parties to further left parties or Greens in the next elections, also because the more idealistic Catholics were traumatised by the Iraq war.

  11. parvati_roma says:

    On the content of Sadr’s statements in the Repubblica interview, worth noting how he simultaneously pressures Maliki and leaves the door open to him: I’d say Sadr is far from finished.
    Another point worth noting is how NONE of the English-language media that have picked up on the Italian interview, FAIK, have made any mention of the accusations against Allawi and the delicate matter of those “secret armies” – at most, they say al Sadr is now in hiding, has had 400 of his men arrested and declares his forces will refrain from fighting back during the holy month – full stop.

  12. 4 billion says:

    FB> by empowering the SCIRI, all the more chance of a Tonkin Bay type event, as if they are more active then the link to Iran is much stronger. The lunacy dances on.

  13. bg says:

    John, in regards to your question about Sadr, here is my take. I’ve been following him since 2003. I believe he is the most fortunate benefactor of mistakes we’ve made of the last several years, he is not savvy or even that smart, just really lucky.
    He continually mouths off and says the wrong things at the wrong times, to the wrong people. Because of this, he is considered by many educated people in Iraq to be an idiot, Sistani treats him like a belligerent step-child, Sadr’s Iranian mentor Hai’ri abandoned him two years ago, and no one would even consider giving him public office (or letting him into to a religious school). He is his father’s son, without pictures of Sadiq al Sadr all over the place and the amount of “street credit” we offered up to him in 2004, Muqtada would not be anyone of interest. I don’t by any means consider him a fool, but I would be very leery of giving him too much credit.

  14. ali says:

    Al Sadr thinks Allawi will be back? Iyad is a resilient chap but the only way he’ll be PM again is if DC appoints him dictator. His base of support is far to narrow for him to get there democratically. DC’s constant whining about Maliki’s failure to deliver could presage that but on balance I think the mumbling fat boy is dreaming.
    Al Sadr is more like a low watt version of Benito Mussolini than George Washington. We are dealing here with a cunning urban politician not a sturdy son of the planter gentry. He’s more likely to stage a revolution by telephone than take power by force of arms. He must yearn for the good old days when Iyad danced as Rummie very visibly pulled the strings. Now we have the spectacle of a clearly impotent Iraqi government that Al Sadr was instrumental in creating being bullied clumsily by DC to move against him.
    Muqtada is being both candid and crafty in this interview. In truth the Iraqi security forces and the militias are intertwined and this must cut both ways. He is right to be paranoid. It makes sense for him to wait out the American surge and he’s justifying his inaction. What he says probably reflects these things and we should also understand this as him wishing to exaggerate his weaknesses to the western press. Interestingly his list of enemy forces omit his main street level rival the Badr Brigades and there is no word of Iran.

  15. bg says:

    Good points Ali. Very interesting development today, the Sadrist politicians are returning to the government. That is an interesting response to the recent captures of Mahdi Militia, and specifically Sheik Duraji. I wonder if this means that the Sadr Bureau intend to seek a political solution out of fear of total military annihilation. I also wonder if Muqtada ordered the return to government or if the politicians did it themselves.

  16. Got A Watch says:

    The “surge” may indeed bring reduced violence – as long as the nearest unit of American troops is no more than a mile away. This “freezing” effect will last precisely as long as militias think they can “wait it out”. But the line between “freeze” and “hot war” will be razor thin, with all sides poised to escalate when they feel their interests are really threatened.
    With political limits to the “surge” looking as if it should be not more than 6 months in length, the militias should be able to ride it out. But the whole works is about one provocation or outrage awasy from erupting to a more dangerous phase. Think “Golden Shrine” bombing, or continued ethnic cleansing of Sunnis out of Baghdad by Shiites.
    The Sunnis seem not to have got the message about laying low, their insurgents are fighting on. They no doubt have seen the writing on the wall: if they don’t fight, the Shiites will win all. American alliance with the illusion of a broadly supported Iraq Government only further Sunni violence. They are being backed into a corner and face a choice: fight harder and more desperately, or lose all. IMHO they will choose to escalate the conflict, forcing the Shiite militias to respond in kind.
    The die has been cast, and the American ability to influence events on the ground can only decrease. Of course, this is blindlingly obvious to anyone who reflects on the simple facts of recent Iraqi history -when you invade a country, then try to control it, the population naturally resents this, whatever their religion or ethnic/tribal affiliation.
    Like a drunk told to quit drinking, the Bushies cast desperately this way and that trying to force a favorable outcome thru the eye of a needle without having to face the unpalatable hard choice. One thing seems certain, Pres. Obama will have to oversee the withdrawal of US troops, Bush certainly won’t – though in 6 months the popular resolve to withdraw may overwhelm the last redoubts of neo-con will to send others to die for their naive ideals.

  17. FB says:

    4 billion:
    These guys don’t need to set up an elaborate preparatory scenario to manufacture a Tonkin. They’ll do that any time they are ready.
    They’re obviously not concerned about empowering SCIRI. Boy George probably because he looked into al-Hakim’s eyes and……He doesn’t know that clerics in general, and Shia clerics in particular, are adept at making their pure white souls ooze from their eyes. As for Darth Cheney, he believes that by the time SCIRI becomes top dog Iran will have been clobbered. He doesn’t care that, as with Iraq, when you clobber a country there is a prolonged blow-back you have to deal with.
    There has been occasional speculation that Boy George is perhaps a believer in the imminence of the Apocalypse, as an explanation of many of his actions. What is not talked about is Cheney’s undoubted belief in it; this guy goes to bed every night knowing it could be the end of the universe (his universe, and thus the universe!).

  18. Will says:

    something that Professor juan cole brought up at the time of SH necktie party. When Moqtadr’s name was shouted, SH looked surprised and said “you call yourselves men.” This is an illusion to his reputed gayhood and the rumor that Moqtadar’s wife left him b/c of that condition. It might all be psyops and disinformation.
    In any case in the Repubblica interview, Moqtadr says it’s all disinforamtion and psyops that he or his men had anything to do with the necktie party. It was all put out to make him unpopular in the eyes of the Sunni near and abroad. That even a little child in Sadr City could spot the counterfeit Shiite chants.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    SH was certainly a man’s man – he had 3 wives – I think he married the last one in 1991 just before that war started.
    You cannot apply the category “gay” in such cases and in that culture – AC/DC will be more accurate.

  20. Will says:

    excellent translation by nur al cubicle from le monde
    le monde chat
    The US hegemony: Failure or revision?
    LEMONDE.FR | 10.JAN.07 | 18:19 • Updated 17.JAN.07 | 11:28
    Debate with Bertrand Badie, Professor at Sciences-Po, Wednesday, January 17th, 2007
    The US hegemony: Failure or revision?
    very good analysis of differences between
    hegemony vs. empire
    vietnam vs. irak
    & the consequences

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