Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Apres Mook, Le Deluge

This is not a good sign. Spencer Ackerman explains (quoting a subscription only piece on IraqSlogger):

...[A]n anti-Sadr rally. Practically in Sadr City!

In an act described by witnesses as verging on the "unthinkable," scores of Iraqis staged a protest against the Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday inside a region known as a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia.

On Monday, in the Kasra wa Atash area, in the Eastern part of the capitol near Sadr City, assembled protesters chanted anti-Sadr slogans, and voiced objections to the recent trends in Sadr's leadership of the Sadrist Current, the Shi'a religious tendency named after his father and his father-in-law.

The marchers chanted in Arabic: "The traitor is a soldier and we have discharged him" (i.e. from his military service). When a Slogger source asked to confirm who the "soldier" was referred to in the chant, marchers indicated that the "dismissal" was indeed directed to Muqtada al-Sadr, using the nickname "Qaddu," an Arabic nickname for the young cleric that derives from his first name.

Why are they opposing Sadr? Because he's a demagogic religious thug? Because they're sick of the violence? Because they want reconciliation with the Sunnis and occupation by the Americans? Nope.

Some marchers reportedly accused the Sadrist leadership of reaching a quiet agreement with U.S. forces in order to pacify the capital, but said they opposed such an agreement, preferring that the Sadrist current offer resistance to the American presence.

As I have been warning recently, the US military and its "allies" in the Iraqi government are pushing Sadr into a corner. Unless they ease up on the operations against the Mahdi Army militia and others in Sadr's organization, Sadr won't be able to hold back the flood. He will be forced to lift the self-imposed cease-fire due to mounting pressure from within his organization given force by the continued killings, arrests and general harrassment of even non-militants in the Sadrist current. Not to mention the arming of tribal elements in the Shiite south in an attempt to replicate the "awakenings" strategy by encouraging those tribal elements to turn on the Sadrists.

The good news is, Sadr would likely prefer to keep the Mahdi Army militia on the sidelines - why expose his fighters to the full wrath of the US military at a time when US forces are less preoccupied with the Sunni resistance? The Sunni militants have decided to wait out the occupation in order to consolidate, retool and restock for future clashes with Shiite elements in and around Baghdad (read: Sadrists). Sadr would be foolish to do otherwise.

Engagement with US forces at this time would leave his cadres weakened and vulnerable to both Sunni militants and his Shiite rivals alike. Further, Sadr's cease-fire has enabled him to weed out undisciplined and disloyal elements that fail to adhere to the ethical/religious code demanded by the Sadrist leadership. That is an ongoing process that is far from complete, but one that his current deems vital.

The bad news is, however, that Sadr might have little choice in the matter if the trajectory of anti-Sadrist activities continues unabated. Not only should US military commanders re-think their heavy-handed approach, but I would lean heavily on ISCI and its Badr Corp militia (now largely incorporated in the "official" Iraqi Security Forces) to pull back as well.

Sadr is not the only one who should fear the outcome of an unrestrained Mahdi Army. We're talking about a political movement that is comprised of over 2 million Iraqis. Trying to eradicate such a force would be near impossible. The violence would send ripples throughout Iraq, and the body count would be considerably higher on all sides.

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