Coopting Sadr

Posted by Cutler on November 25, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized

In the past, I have argued that all US foreign policy factions seem to hate Sadr.  But somebody in the US foreign policy elite thinks Sadr can serve some purpose.

Amidst all the recent attacks on Sadrists and the reprisals, Ed Wong includes this small, cryptic remark in his New York Times reporting:

Some American officials also argue that Mr. Sadr’s engagement in politics is necessary for any hope of a peaceful disarmament of his thousands-strong militia, which has twice rebelled against the American military.

Which American officials make this argument?  Wouldn’t that be interesting to know?  And why would Sadr’s engagement in politics help bring about the disarmament of his militia?

Isn’t this remark a reference to “some” American officials who believe that Sadr might serve as a bulwark against “foreign” influence within his own rank and file?

At least one July 7, 2006 Associated Press report suggested that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

As I commented in a post in early August, Sadr may be willing to preside over the disarming of those elements of his Mahdi Army engaged in sectarian violence.

Reporting in the Financial Times tends to support this analysis:

In a Friday sermon, Mr Sadr challenged Hareth al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is probably Iraq’s most influential Sunni institution, to condemn the attacks and forbid his followers from joining organisations such as al-Qaeda that target Shia civilians.

Mr Dhari must “issue a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shia so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al- Qaeda or any other organisation that has made [the Shia] their enemies”, Mr Sadr said. If the senior Sunni cleric did so, Mr Sadr said, he would support the revocation of the arrest warrant against him.

Mr Dhari, currently outside Iraq after the government issued a warrant against him for incitement to violence, has said that al-Qaeda practises legitimate “resistance”.

Politicians from the Sadrist movement threatened to pull out of the government if Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, were to go through with a meeting with President George W. Bush scheduled for next week in Jordan.

The Sadrists accuse Washington of putting pressure on Mr Maliki’s government to disarm Shia militias, which they say inhibits their ability to defend themselves against Sunni extremists. The boycott threats may be an attempt to deflect Shia anger away from the Sunni and towards the Americans, a strategy that has been surprisingly effective since the 2003 invasion in limiting reprisals for attacks such as the Thursday blasts.

The attacks appeared to have heightened internal tensions within the movement, whose leadership has consistently called for Iraqi unity but whose rank and file are blamed for a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the thousands of sectarian killings that have taken place over the past nine months.

Mr Sadr issued a statement immediately after the attack calling for restraint and ordering his followers not to carry out any action without consulting the Shia clerical hierarchy. But a significant proportion of his followers believe that their only safety lies in militias such as the Mahdi Army taking the fight to the Wahhabis, or anti-Shia puritans, a category into which an increasing number of Sunnis appear to be lumped.

Who in the US would be most likely to be willing or able to see Sadr as a force for Iraqi unity against sectarian civil war?

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