Saturday, March 31, 2007

Breaking: Iraqi President Says Mahdi Army To Stand Down

A few hours ago, the BBC reported an Iraqi government announcement. The Mahdi Army is to stand down.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says the Shia militia known as the Mahdi Army has stopped its activities on the orders of its leader, Moqtada Sadr.
The president described this as a new phenomenon, and a positive response to the new Iraqi-US security plan.

He was speaking after receiving the new US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who expressed hope for progress towards stability and prosperity.

...The Mahdi Army...has been described by the US as the greatest threat to security in Iraq.

"People now are cooperating with government forces against terrorism as part of the security plan," Mr Talabani said.

"Not to mention the fact that the Mahdi Army has become inactive. Apparently the instructions of brother Moqtada Sadr have been effective, whereby there are no longer complaints by brother Sunni Arabs about attacks against them like before."

This is particularly surprising considering that, just yesterday, Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al Sadr was condemning the US presence in Iraq in no uncertain terms while "militiamen loyal to Mr. Sadr engaged in street battles against Iraqi Army soldiers in southwestern Baghdad".

I would caution those who are cheerleading for the 'surge' as the solution to all Iraq's ills to be cautious, however. It's not the first time Sadr's militia have stood down only to stand up again later. Even were this novel new situation to last, Sadr would still be implaccably opposed to the occupation. The Shiite majority government has apparently convinced him that standing down his forces will help keep them in power - something which has been increasingly seen as unlikely recently - but I highly doubt this means that Sadr will change his tune. More probable is an Iraqi government move towards Sadr's position and perhaps even an attempt to remove the UN mandate for the occupation. Still, in the interim, at least the Mahdi forces won't be shooting at US or UK troops.

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