One day after the official “launch” of the Baghdad surge and crackdown, here come the (earliest and totally preliminary) answers to the questions about US policy in Iraq:
Target #1: “Rogue” elements of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army. Reuters has the details:
U.S. and Iraqi forces detained Iraq’s deputy health minister on Thursday, a senior member of a radical Shi’ite political group, in the first major sign that a security crackdown in Baghdad was under way.
The U.S. military, without naming anyone, said a senior Health Ministry official had been detained on suspicion of infiltrating rogue members of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia into the ministry.
Ministry officials and witnesses said deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili, from Sadr’s movement, was detained during the raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on the Health Ministry in Baghdad.
“He is suspected of funding rogue JAM through large-scale employment of militia members,” a U.S. military statement said, using the acronym for the militia.
BBC even has Zamili’s picture.
So, if this is “rogue” rage, where is the “official” Sadrist movement?
Here is the Financial Times on that rather urgent question:
Last August, this correspondent observed US troops search one of the [health] complex’s buildings and arrest guards whom they believed may have hidden kidnap victims inside.
Later in the nearby battalion headquarters, the Iraqi commander to whom the captives had been transferred was besieged by phone calls from his superiors demanding the men be let go.
Sadrists say that Mr Sadr himself has directed his followers not to confront the US military or the Iraqi government, although this policy may be tested by such a high-profile arrest.
Right. So, has Sadr been coopted by the Cheney crowd? Or is he simply lying low. Is the US moving ahead with a pre-approved program of helping Sadr gain control of his own “unruly” rank and file? Or is the US spoiling for a fight with Sadr, using this high-profile arrest to draw the Sadrists into a confrontation?