Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Drawing out the Mahdi Army

Chris Floyd gives us some idea of what's going on in Baghdad now, in this second week of the security clamp-down (via Glenn Greenwald):
The intent of bombings such as this is clear: someone is trying to draw out the Shiite militias – specifically, the Mahdi Army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, the only powerful armed faction in Iraq that maintains a quasi-independence from the Americans, the Iranians, the Ayatollah Sistani and the Maliki government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cannot simply attack the Mahdi Army directly as part of the "dazzling" surge he and the Bush Administration are putting on; that would be political suicide for Maliki, who still depends on Sadr's faction to keep his grip on the exceedingly poisoned chalice of the Green Zone government. Yet it has long been apparent that the Bushists now want to settle up with Sadr once and for all. Maliki is caught between these clashing rocks, serving two irreconcilable masters: the American conquerors, and the fundamentalist cleric who commands the loyalty of vast swathes of the Iraqi electorate, specifically the masses of poor Shiites. The only way Maliki could countenance a military move against Sadr is if it is taken out of his hands entirely – i.e., if the Americans are forced to respond to attacks from Mahdi units enraged by the current campaign of bombing.

Sadr, meanwhile, is playing the long game. He has announced that his people will "cooperate" with the government's security crackdown, giving Maliki the necessary cover to hold back on any moves against the Mahdi Army. Sadr knows what anyone with eyes can see: that those vast swathes of Shiites now loyal to him hold the nation's future in their hands. Whoever can win and maintain their respect and support will be the most powerful figure in Iraq, whatever office he does or does not hold.

The only way this outcome will not hold true is if the Mahdi Army is wiped out on the battlefield, and a Saddam-like reign of terror decimates and cows the Shiites back into submission. Therefore it is in the interest of every faction in Iraq that would like to eliminate Sadr and his faction from the power equation to draw the Mahdi Army out of hiding now through extreme provocations.

Unnamed "American and Iraqi officials" tell the New York Times that the current wave of atrocities in the Shiite enclaves is likely the work of "Sunni militants" seeking to enflame sectarian tensions and undermine the government. And it may well be so. But if it so, then the Sunni militants and the Bush Faction have the same goal in the current operation: to provoke the Mahdi Army into action so it can then be destroyed by American forces.
In other words, these attacks are not merely aimed at undermining the new security program, though they achieve that purpose too. They are about the "long game" in Iraq: who will control the country when we finally leave. Given the stories we've heard about Mahdi army cells acting without Sadr's permission, it's entirely plausible that elements of the militia will try to retaliate against the Sunnis, and find themselves facing our forces. And our forces will then find themselves facing both sides in a civil war.

This is what our forces are up against. Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists whose attacks they cannot stop, a Shiite cleric intent on waiting us out, a government playing both sides of the fence, all in the middle of a war for who will rule the country when we're finally driven out. Against this backdrop, it is clear that we have no chance of bringing peace to this country.

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