Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sadrists coughing out SIIC

One of the key drivers of the lower levels of violence that has been occuring in Iraq has been the reined in operations of significant elements of the Mahdi Army (JAM) which is the militia/armed wing of the Sadrist movement. In the past six months the active death squads in Baghdad have decreased their operations as most neighborhoods are now sectarian ghettos, and the inter-Shi'ite factional fighting which came close to a tipping point last August in Karbala led to a ceasefire between JAM and the Badr Brigades. The Badr Brigades are the armed wing of SIIC (nee SCIRI). Right now the six month JAM ceasefire against US forces is still holding although there is signifcant support among field commanders to resume active operations against US forces.

More importantly, it looks like Sadr has taken the past couple of months to reconsolidate his power base, and play rope a dope with the elected government to further increase his influence and credibility. Quiet may not benefit him any more. Agence France Press is reporting that the Sadrists are ending their cooperative agreeement with SIIC and the Badr Brigades:
Radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement Sunday announced it was cancelling a pact it signed four months ago with its main Shiite rival aimed at reducing tension between the two groups.

The agreement between the Sadrists and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim "has failed and is cancelled," Nassar al-Rubaie, spokesman for the Sadr bloc in parliament, told AFP.

The two groups, which have clashed repeatedly in the past as each sought control of Iraq's majority Shiite community, signed a pact last October 6 aimed at ending the violence between their two militias.....

At stake is control of local government in Iraq's mainly Shiite southern provinces which are rich in oil, and in particular in the large town of Basra, the main port for exporting hydrocarbons.

Rivalry between the two movements is likely to increase ahead of provincial elections scheduled for October 1.

The SIIC has close links with Iran, and its chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim often visits Tehran.

He is also welcomed in Washington, where he is regarded as a key player on the Iraqi political scene.
Sadr and his followers seem like they are making a play to create a stranglehold on the lifeblood of the Iraqi political-graft system by knocking SIIC out of control and contention in the South. I'll let Cernig and Eric provide a bit more analysis as they have been tracking Sadr more aggressively than I have been in the past six months.

Cernig: Sadr has become pretty adroit of late at pulling everyone in Iraq's strings through a will-he-won't-he-extend manipulation of the JAM ceasefire. And I do mean everyone, including and especially the US military. It's significant that Nassar al-Rubaie is making this announcement, as he's been a primary negotiator with coalition forces. The message seems to be "we'll extend the ceasefire in respect to coalition forces, but leave us alone to go after Badr." If, as al-Rubaie says, SIIC have dragged their feet over setting up agreed upon joint committees to mediate confrontations between the rival militiamen, then that's in line with SCIRI's tactics in government as a whole too - and may well leave the US military disposed towards looking if Sadr goes back on the offensive in the South. British officials have suggested that his militia has almost achieved supremacy in Basra in any case.

At the same time those other US allies, the MeK, are now saying that it's the SIIC's Badr militias, not the Sadrists, who are getting funding and direction from Iran - and for once they're probably right in general if not in detail. (The Badr Brigades were originally created to fight the MeK when the MeK were Saddam's bully-boys, so the latter aren't the most reliable witnesses on what their old and current rivals may be up to.) As Fester noted, SIIC have cozied up to the White House as well as to Iran. As usual in Iraq, nothing fits the straightforward narratives the US pro-war lobby likes to impose.

Depending on whether the WH or commanders on the ground get to decide Coalition strategy should Sadr resume hostilities against the Badr, this situation may well end up with Coalition commanders making a triangulation that helps them short term (divide and conquer) but greatly aids Sadr's nationalist anti-occupation power base in the longer term. Or the White House could order the military to protect Iran's greatest allies. What a great set of choices.

No comments: