Sunday, March 30, 2008

Breaking - Sadr Plays "Good Guy" Card [Updated]

By Cernig

There's breaking news that Muqtada has issued a nine point statement, the most immediately important of which is the one ordering his supporters to stop attacking government forces and clear the streets.

The BBC:

Mr Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.

"Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us."

The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees, and stop what he called illegal raids. [Emphasis Mine - C]
I wonder if "cat herder" Sistani's managed to pull of the improbable again, or if this is entirely a manouver of Sadr's own making?

Some will claim this is a Sadr climb-down. I doubt he cares much what the American Right thinks, though. For others, following on from a reported snub of the guy Maliki sent to try to get Sadr to negotiate on Maliki's terms, and his statement to his followers not to hand over their weapons, this will be seen as Sadr trying to claim the moral high ground while still retaining the ability to start up hostilities again if needed. Obviously, the Mahdi Army's stand-down is conditional on Maliki standing down his own forces too. Since Sadr was always the one saying they should ceasefire and talk, while Maliki's been strong on the "never give up, never surrender" rhetoric the last five days, it's also obvious who Iraqis will think "won" if Maliki complies.

Update It looks like Maliki will indeed comply.
Spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali Al-Dabbag, in a press release, said the government welcomed this call which would serve to avoid bloodshed, adding that this reflected Al-Sadr's keenness for maintaining the safety of civilians. Security is the responsibility of the government, and the government does not target a certain movement or faction, he stressed, hoping that the Sadrist bloc would support the government.
The BBC report above is a little unclear on Sadr's terms too - what he's calling for is that the government stop arrest raids against his followers, release those in detention and grant them an amnesty.

What the Western media are less keen, seemingly, to report are Sadr's other demands. The Roads To Iraq website writes:
After the killing of Maliki’s security adviser “Hassan Al-Kadhmi” by Mahdi Army in Basra today and according to Wasat Online, the Iraqi government and the Sadrists reached an agreement of nine points...the newspaper says that among the points is the withdrawal of the Iraqi and American forces from Basra, stop the raids against the Sadrists, Maliki to return to Baghdad in 48 hour followed by the ministers [Defense and Interior]. [Emphasis Mine - C]
FOX News only notes that "The Iraqi government lauded al-Sadr's orders, saying 'This is a positive statement,' according to Reuters." If this is a positive statement then Maliki has indeed climbed all the way back down, with five out of nine points covering a humiliating withdrawal back to Baghdad with his tail between his legs.

Update 2 Via 'Axt113' in comments - Hazem al-Araji, an aide to Sadr, told reporters in Najaf that "We confirm that there were guarantees taken from the Iraqi government to fulfill all the points in this statement." Even the one about Maliki leaving Basra, trailed by his Ministers? Wow.

Maliki chased out of Basra by Mookie - who'd a thunk it?

Update 3 Oh look, the cheerleading US Right wants to try painting this as Sadr suing for peace rather than facing extinction. To them, it's Maliki's victory over criminal militias. Of course, they aren't mentioning the amnesty/release, the end of attacks by government and US forces even though the Mahdi militia retains its guns (and other militias weren't touched at all), or Maliki's ignominious banishment to Baghdad. "Imagine my surprise..."

Update 4 There are reports that the Iraqi government is promising to fight on in Basra:
IRAQI troops will continue their six-day-old military operation in Basra despite a call by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for his followers to stop fighting, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said overnight.

"The operation in Basra will continue and will not stop until it achieves its goals. It is not targeting the Sadrists but criminals," Mr Dabbagh said.
It remains to be seen whether they will actually do so, or whether they will observe the reported 48 hour withdrawal timeline after clobbering a couple of local minor gangs, or recalcitrant Sadrists who might defy Muqtada, to save face. Certainly, they expect there to be no more violence in Baghdad by Monday, as they've announced that they'll lift the capital's curfew then after just yesterday saying it would continue indefinitely. Let's be clear, though, if they attack the mainstream Mahdi Army again then Sadr's offered deal would be off and the fighting would flare up anew. That fighting would necessarily mean even heavier US involvement.

Steve Soto explains the dynamics of that part of Sadr's offer.
Having made his point that the Mahdi Army could fight the Iraqi security forces to a draw while encouraging a united front among Shiites and Sunnis against the American occupation, Muqtada al-Sadr pivoted today and asked his forces to suspend military operations in Basra and all other provinces in order to preserve Iraqi unity. His commanders are apparently still allowed to self-defend themselves and their forces, and the order comes after al-Sadr's forces drove the government from a TV station in Basra.

Al-Sadr knows that he and his forces cannot win a face-to-face battle with American forces and air power, and that attempting to engage in such a prolonged battle is a recipe for decimation and destruction of Iraqi cities. He's daring al-Maliki to still come after him, and to put an American face on that destruction.
I'm seeing a lot of talk about "victors don't make offers" on Rightwing blogs. But they do if they see a clear way to make a political and electoral killing thereby.
“With this statement, Sayyed Moktada al-Sadr proved that he is a good politician, working for the sake of Iraq,” said Mahmoud al-Mashadani, the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and a senior Sunni politician.
War is simply an extension of politics, as Von Clauswitch explained. They might try turning it the other way. Victors don't accept a demand to quit the field of their victory within 48 hours, releasing their prisoners as they go.

Update 5 Badger at Missing Links has a translation of Sadr's statement and I've been too hasty in accepting Roads To Iraq's version by the looks of it.
Based upon our responsibilities in law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraqi blood and for the protection of the reputation of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of land, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraqi brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraqi people to measure up to their responsibility and their consciousness of law in sparing blood and preserving peace in Iraq, and its stability and its independence.

The following is resolved:

(1) Ending armed manifestations in the governate of Basra and all the other governates

(2) Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests

(3) Demand on the government to apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who had not had charges confirmed against them, and particularly prisoners belonging to the Sadrist trend

(4) We announce that we will renounce those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or [political] party offices

(5) Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge those who commit crimes, according to legal [qanuniya] process

(6) We affirm that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons

(7) Efforts for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out on account of security incidents

(8) We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security actions

(9) Working for the realization of development and services projects in all governates
I've made too much of the "out of Basra in 48 hours" claim by trusting Roads To Iraq, unless it's part of the understanding but not Sadr's statement. Still, the statement is clear that Sadr expects Maliki to stand down - an "Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests" - and grant amnesty to all Mahdi Army detainees, otherwise the deal is off. Badger, who is a Sadrist by admission, writes that "He gives up nothing: no weapons, no people, no territory. He's won an important round." Reports in the US press also have it that a team of senior Iraqi government types journeyed to Iran to meet Sadr to negotiate - not the actions of a government determined to wipe out a group which is a "greater threat than Al Qaeda". Badger appears to think Maliki may have come under pressure from the US to cut a deal for stability. That's certainly possible, despite Bush's rhetoric of backing Maliki 100%.