Sadr’s New American Friends

Posted by Cutler on January 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists

Blake Hounshell at FP Passport points out that Bush’s “New Way Forward” in Iraq reiterates the demand that Prime Minister Maliki facilitate a military crackdown on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. Or, at least a crackdown on “rogue elements” of the militia.

For a while, it seemed like the entire US foreign policy establishment was united by a common atipathy toward the Sadrists.

More recently, however, Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht who have long feared that Sadr would marginalize “moderate” Shia figures like Grand Ayatollah Sistani have argued that the best way to marginalize Sadr is not through frontal assault on Sadr City, but through a beefed up, unrelenting assault against Sunni insurgents.

The White House is not reading from the Gerecht playbook. The pressure is for Maliki to green light a break with Sadr.

But Gerecht’s Washington defeats may yet prove to be Baghdad “victories” if Shiite political forces resist the White House plan.

That resistance will get coded by most US commentators, especially on the Left, as a defeat, a blow to US power, etc. But it is worth keeping in mind that Washington is factionalized. The Iraqi Shia may hand a massive defeat to Bush and Right Arabists. But this may not necessarily imply a defeat for Right Zionists–or Cheney. On the contrary, Right Zionists may already have unleashed forces in Iraq that Right Arabist Washington is unable to contain, notwithstanding the best efforts by Zalmay Khalilzad to close pandora’s box.

Roula Khalaf and Steve Negus of the Financial Times seem to agree that Bush is sticking with the Khalilzad playbook, but they have serious reservations about the odds of political success (let alone military success).

Largely focused on a military push, the new US “way forward” for Iraq depends heavily on the weak Iraqi government’s will and ability to adopt controversial policies it has so far resisted…

Despite the administration’s public support for Mr Maliki, US officials have repeatedly complained about his resistance to reining in Shia militias, some of which are affiliated with parties in the ruling Shia coalition that brought him to power…

Mr Maliki announced a new security plan for Baghdad on Saturday, in which he suggested that government forces would make more serious attempts to contain Shia militias…

Although the US says American and Iraqi troops will now have a free hand to conduct operations in the capital, assaults on the overpopulated suburb of Sadr city, the Mahdi army stronghold, would carry huge risks for Washington, radicalising more Shia and turning them against the US.

American pressure on the government over the past year to make political concessions to the Sunni minority, which has been marginalised since the 2003 invasion, already has made many Shia suspicious of US intentions…

Khalaf and Negus temper this analysis with some factors that may work in favor of the White House plan:

On the other hand, Mr Maliki’s standing with his own core constituency seems to have recovered somewhat with the hanging of Saddam Hussein in the face of opposition from Sunni Arabs inside Iraq and in the region.

This, together with the imminent departure of US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who was seen as the architect of a pro-Sunni policy, may give Mr Maliki the freedom to take actions that would otherwise alienate his own Shia constituency.

Will Maliki move against his own base? In the last instance, Khalaf and Negus seem dubious:

But some members of Mr Maliki’s coalition believe that the Shia government should shrug off American pressure. They have said that Iraq does not need any more foreign troops and instead have called for Iraqi units to be transferred to an Iraqi chain of command…

[S]ome Sunni politicians doubt the [Maliki] government has any real intention of controlling militias and is instead supporting them in the hopes of winning the sectarian battles for Baghdad neighbourhoods and districts near to the capital.

Seen from this light, Mr Maliki’s acquiescence to the Bush plan may appear simply to be a play for time as the country’s new Shia leaders cement their control over the capital.

The Bush plan may be D.O.A. But don’t expect Right Zionists to shed any tears.

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