Archive for the ‘Shia’ Category

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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Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday announced that he would set up a special armed group to fight U.S. forces and order the rest of JAM to “work against Western cultural, social and religious domination”, according to Reuters.

So, like, does this mean the ceasefire’s scrapped?

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The Washington Post reports that the Americans are now paying former Shia fighters in Sadr City to form what they call “neighborhood guards” — and arming them. But the story raises more questions it answers:

  • Who exactly are these guys?
  • What is Neighborhood 512?
  • Who is Kadham Saddam Manshad?
  • Do the Americans seriously think the Sadrists are going to let this fly?
  • Does no one there think long-term?? I mean, the U.S. is now arming both sides of a potential (in fact, likely) civil war.

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New paper on Basra

Reidar Visser has a new paper out on the Sadrists of Basra. More later.

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Remember when, in 2001 after Kabul fell, we read all those stories about newly liberated Afghanis happily flying kites and listening to crappy pop music? Well, now it’s happening in Basra! The narrative is familiar: local democratic forces bravely defeat Islamist thugs with just a teeny bit of American help from the air. And everyone lives happily everafter — until the thugs stage a spectacular comeback and the music stops again.

I’m no expert in Shia politics, but I smell a rat here. Was it really this easy to take the Sadrists out of the equation? Are the blood feuds now over? Where do ISCI and Fadhila stand in all this?

Also, I’m left wondering why the operation is heralded as an Iraqi success even though, according to NYT:

Iraqi commanders acknowledge that the American and British support helped them wrest control of Mahdi Army strongholds like Hayyaniyah — a slum that is Basra’s equivalent of Sadr City — and other poor districts that are fertile recruiting grounds for militias.

The way I remember it, the offensive would have turned into a debacle, had coalition air power not come to the rescue. And as to the 800 American “advisors” embedded with Iraqi units, their role remains a mystery. An American civilian working in Basra I met in Kuwait told me he’d been rescued by “the Marines and the 101st Airborne”. Probably not, but no doubt some Americans were there.

More of the cheapo “fun and music” narrative here:

“Music and weddings in Basra, for now” Reuters
“The men in black vanish and Basra comes to life” The Times
“Iraq army in ‘full control of Basra'” News.com.au
“Basra’s ‘dark ages’ lifting as hard-line grip weakens” Associated Press

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