The Independent newspaper's Patrick Cockburn today has an account of an interview with Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr Mowaffaq Rubai'e, who tells of a U.S. plot to lure Muqtada al-Sadr to peace negotiations which were always intended as a trap.
"I believe that particular incident made Muqtada lose any confidence or trust in the [US-led] coalition and made him really wild," the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr Mowaffaq Rubai'e told The Independent in an interview.Worth remembering when discussing why al-Sadr seems so implaccably opposed to doing deals with occupation forces nowadays. And also worth remembering as yet another example of incompetence for that occupation. They could have had a peace deal with the largest and most influential Shiite militia (the Mahdi Army is larger than the Iraqi Army, according to estimates) way back in fall 2004 - which would have had a massive knock-on effect in fostering national unity against the horrific events to come at Samara. Instead, almost three years later, sectarian divisions are increasingly tearing the country apart.
...Although Mr Sadr escaped with his life at the last moment, the incident helps explain why he disappeared from view in Iraq when President George Bush stepped up confrontation with him and his Mehdi Army militia in January.
Dr Rubai'e said: "I know him very well and I think his suspicion and distrust of the coalition and any foreigner is really deep-rooted," and dates from what happened in Najaf. He notes that after it had happened Mr Sadr occupied the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf as a place of refuge. Dr Rubai'e had gone to Najaf in August 2004 to try to mediate an end to the fighting. He met Mr Sadr who agreed to a set of conditions to end the crisis. "He actually signed the agreement with his own handwriting," said Dr Rubai'e. "He wanted the inner Najaf, the old city, around the shrine to be treated like the Vatican."
Having returned to Baghdad to show the draft document to Iyad Allawi, who was prime minister at the time, Dr Rubai'e went back to Najaf to make a final agreement with Mr Sadr.
It was agreed that the last meeting would take place in the house in Najaf of Muqtada's father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr who had been murdered by Saddam's gunmen with two of his sons five years before. Dr Rubai'e and other mediators started for the house. As they did so they saw the US Marines open up an intense bombardment of the house and US Special Forces also heading for it. But the attack was a few minutes premature. Mr Sadr was not yet in the house and managed to escape.
Although Dr Rubai'e, as Iraqi National Security Adviser since 2004 and earlier a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is closely associated with the American authorities in Baghdad, he has no doubt about what happened.
He sees the negotiations as part of a charade to lure Mr Sadr, who is normally very careful about his own security, to a house where he could be eliminated.
"When I came back to Baghdad I was really, really infuriated, I can tell you," Dr Rubai'e said. "I went berserk with both [the US commander General George] Casey and the ambassador [John Negroponte]." They denied that knew of a trap and said they would look into what happened but he never received any explanation from them.
...The attempt to kill or imprison Mr Sadr was first revealed by Dr Rubai'e to Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi finance minister, who gives an account of what happened in his recent book The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the war, Losing the peace.
Dr Rubai'e said this weekend in Baghdad that he stands by his account given there.