Archive for the ‘Shia’ Category

Remember the time not so long ago when U.S. commanders used to call Muqtada al-Sadr “Sayyid”? Well, those days are now officially over. GEN Raymond Odierno, who will take over from Petraeus in September, spells out the new approach in a New York Times interview:

General Odierno said he would pay particular attention to militia forces loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. In recent days Mr. Sadr has urged his followers to volunteer for a new social wing of his movement that he said would work alongside his militia, the Mahdi Army.

The effort raises the prospect of a radical group’s trying to garner popular support by challenging the government in meeting the needs of ordinary Iraqis. General Odierno warned that the tactic had proved effective in allowing Hezbollah forces in Lebanon allied with Iran to weaken the central government there.

‘We do not want the Hezbollah model inside of Iraq,’ he said. ‘We do not want an organization that is an alternative to the government.’

Maybe it’s a slip of the tongue, but Odierno is absolutely right. The U.S. has indeed proved again and again it will not tolerate any alternatives to its chosen Shia Islamists. It’s good to hear the American military command openly acknowledge it will henceforth discourage Iraqi militias from disarming and evolving into social organisations.

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Almost two months after Muqtada al-Sadr announced the disarming of most of JAM and turning the rest into a “social organisation”, a surprising turn of events duly reported at the time by most news organisations (see here and here) and by this blog, this bit of old news is suddenly, well, news again. Reported by The Wall Street Journal, which has come across a brochure repeating al-Sadr’s announcement, the story has been picked up by Danger Room and The Washington Independent and presented as something of a scoop.

Come on, guys.

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The last battle of the Iraq war, according to a brilliant NYT Magazine piece by Michael Gordon, will pit Shia against Shia. The story recounts how, after brave and ingenious efforts by American, Polish and Iraqi officers to build a Shia tribal Awakening movement in Diwaniya, the Maliki government and its ISCI backers, worried about their southern power base, one day just shut down the program:

The marines went from checkpoint to checkpoint, informing puzzled Iraqis that they were out of business. They assured them that they would at least be paid as promised for their initial three months of service. At first the governor would only let them use a soccer field for the disbursements. I was with Gildroy when she went to make the last payment in March of this year. She grabbed a plastic bag full of $20 bills and climbed into an Iraqi Army Humvee for the drive to town. For several hours, I watched as a long line of young men in T-shirts and sandals made their way to an Iraqi police station, inked their names in a ledger, pocketed their modest payments and shuffled off. Few seemed to have any idea what they might do next.

The Marines who spearheaded the effort have serious doubts about the eventual outcome, Gordon writes:

The perspective of the Marines differed markedly from that of the American officials in Baghdad. The Marines saw the tribes as more secular than the fundamentalists in the religious parties. They were less confident that the provincial elections would be genuinely fair; and they were worried that efforts to buttress political stability appeared to have trumped the idea of democracy. After Diwaniya, Team Phoenix made trips to Sadr City and Basra: they concluded that much of the security there was the result of political deals, not the decisive application of force by the Iraqi state. And they wondered if those deals would hold.

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Next Stop: Babil

This just in from Jonestown:

It seems that the propaganda campaign of al-Sadr has started in the province of Babil, south of Baghdad, where leaflets are distributed daily urging people to store weapons and fight the U.S. army. The local police believe that in addition to JAM other insurgent groups are involved. Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and the extremist Shiite cult of the ‘Soldiers of Heaven’ are among the suspect groups (see Terrorism Monitor, February 22). The leaflets carry slogans like: ‘The national resistance is the only choice for the Iraqi people to drive out the occupiers and their agents.’ They also urge people to store ammunition, follow what is published on the internet about “the armed Iraqi revolution” and get ready for the zero-hour (al-Hayat, June 23).

Babil province is one of the areas where the Iraqi forces have not yet launched any major operation against the JAM. Shiites are the majority there, except in the northern part adjacent to Baghdad where there is a concentration of Sunnis. The Sadr movement has grown further from the governing Shiite coalition and looks more open to coordinate with non-sectarian parties. Many former members of the pro-Saddam Fidayeen militia are believed to have infiltrated JAM after the fall of Saddam, providing the possibility of coordination against the common enemy, the Iraqi government.

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Following the pattern established in Basra, Mosul and Sadr City, Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki has announced a major reconstruction package for the province of Maysan after offering amnesty to the Shia fighters there. Or rather — allocated money for further use. And therein lies the problem. With the corrupt and inefficient government ministries already struggling to spend their capital budgets, how are they going to handle three simultanious projects in these flashpoint areas?

Which brings me to another question: does Petraeus seriously think that Maliki and his army are ready for complex COIN operations that require not only kinetic capabilities but, even more importantly, political patience and sectarian neutrality? It’s one thing to flood a city with troops barely capable of firing a Dushka when your opponent has already melted away; it’s another to hold what you’ve just cleared, and to build would require verve and imagination this administration doesn’t have.

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Déjà vu.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has extended the deadline for Shia fighters in Amara to surrender themselves. This is becoming something of a habit. Amnesty was also offered to militants in Mosul after a much-advertised government crackdown failed to produce results. Today, the terrorists are back with a vengeance.

Here’s a tight and precise update from NYT’s Oppel:

Iraqi troops have fanned out in force in Mosul to try to quell the insurgency there led by Baathist fighters and Sunni extremist guerrillas. Violence has dropped in the city in recent months, but according to officials knowledgeable about the fighting, many of Mosul’s most fearsome guerrillas have been pursued by U.S. special operations forces operating in secret rather than Iraqi troops. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi forces can keep the Mosul insurgency in check, or whether the guerrillas will reassert their presence, as they have in the past.

And, going against the “al-Qaeda” meme:

The [U.S. military] statement said the blast had been caused by a car bomb and carried out by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group. The statement offered no explanation of why the military believed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had been responsible for the attack, and not any of the other Sunni extremist and pro-Saddam groups that still operate in the city.

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Here we go. Less than two weeks after Muqtada al-Sadr announced the formation of a special group to target U.S. troops, an explosion ripped through a local council building in Sadr City, killing 10 people, including four Americans.

If this is a harbinger of things to come — if Sadr’s bunch is turning from RPGs and EFPs to targeted assassinations, or possibly suicide bombings — it spells major trouble for the American war effort. You can downplay this persisting violence as much as you want, but even if it is some day reduced to the “irreducible minimum” predicted by Anthony Cordesman, the war is still an unparalleled tragedy by any decent measure, and a shame to us all.

The two new reports, by GAO and the Pentagon, are here and here. More later.

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Of all the characters in America’s Iraqi adventure, Muqtada al-Sadr is perhaps the most perfect Bad Guy.

I thought about this again yesterday after my (not totally unexpected) bout of moralism regarding al-Sadr’s nickname. I mean, just look at the photo. With his Darth Vader attire and “look, I pig out while the poor suffer” figure, he conforms to every possible stereotype of a scheming Arab madman. And sure, he’s probably responsible for more American deaths than any other Iraqi leader, so us Europeans need to allow our Yank friends some leeway here.

Still, I’m surprised how easy it is for even eminently wise and learned people like the folks at Abu Muqawama to forget their high standards when it comes to Sadr. Take the above-mentioned photo. I mean, even the Stupidest Man on Earth can see that the image, with all its none-too-subtle signals, is meant to portray him as a vulture about to take wing. And although I admit that the jokes about his portliness make for a good read, they, too, imply that somehow we’re not to take him seriously. In other words, the message seems to be that either he’s a dumb animal or just some fat dork from Kadhimiya.

I could go on about the dangers of underestimating your enemy etc. etc., but let’s just leave it that.

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Mookie the Camel Jockey

Note to Dr. iRack: Please don’t call him Mookie.

It’s not funny, it’s just racist and stupidly American.

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Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist movement will stay out of the provincial elections planned for later this year, WaPo reports. The “recalibration of strategy” also includes setting up a special armed group to attack U.S. forces, and turning the rest of JAM into a social organisation. At the same time, government forces (no doubt with heavy American support) are preparing for a crackdown against JAM in Amara.

To those dismissing Sadr as a spent force I recommend Patrick Cockburn’s excellent new book on the man. Sadr remains a formidable power in Iraqi politics and will not go away just because Maliki and Petraeus want him to. He commands the respect of the Shia poor and in mere five years has managed to transform himself from an obscure son-of-a-martyr into a genuinely popular leader with growing political aspirations.

His boycott of the elections is a major blow to everyone concerned, including the U.S., which has consistently failed to grasp his importance. The “leader of death squads” argument against him is as weak as ever, since the atrocities of 2006-2007 tarnished more or less everyone, including (some say particularly) Sadr’s Badrist rivals in ISCI. An ISCI-Dawa victory now seems all but certain in the south, but it will ultimately prove counterproductive to Iraqi security and U.S. interests. I’m amazed that Petraeus and Crocker haven’t made more of an effort to co-opt Sadr, choosing instead to leave him out of politics and letting him play the nationalist rebel.

Juan Cole has more.

UPDATE: Scratch that. Al-Sadr has toned down his message.

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