Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Nov 25, 2006 in At TMV | 16 comments

Iraq: The Train Wreck This Way Comes

Nuri al-Maliki had problems aplenty from the moment he became Iraq’s first duly elected prime minister, but his relationship with firebrand anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was bound to result in a train wreck sooner or later.

Observers of the bedlam in Baghdad have seen the trains chugging toward each other for months, and the only question has been when and over what they would collide.

The answer may be Al-Maliki’s meeting with The Decider in Jordan next week. Al-Sadr, who controls a sizeable bloc in the Iraqi Parliament and three cabinet positions, says he will call for a government boycott if the sitdown goes ahead as scheduled because the American president, in a view shared by many Iraqis, is the root of all of the evil that has been visited upon the country. Al-Maliki and the White House say the meeting will go on.

What to make of this?

Perhaps too much and perhaps too little.

Al-Sadr is a notoriously two-faced gamer who often says one thing and does another. He has threatened to pull his supporters out of government before. But he also is the commander of the Mahdi Army, the notorious sectarian militia that not too long ago was in the business of protecting Shiites but has morphed, not entirely with his approval, into an ethnic cleansing machine responsible for much of the carnage that The Decider’s Excellent Adventure in Mesopotamia has provoked.

With Iraq devolving from civil war into chaos, the stakes could not be higher:

Al-Maliki’s government is teetering on the brink of collapse. He needs The Decider but has to appear to be keeping him at arm’s length if he is to maintain the support of Al-Sadr and his fellow Shiites.

The Decider’s government has squandered its credibility. He needs Al-Maliki to rescue his disastrous war policy. Keeping Al-Maliki in power (or convincing him to move aside for a stronger PM) and convincing Al-Sadr to back off and help restore order is key to that.

With Allah on his side, Al-Sadr doesn’t need anybody. Except perhaps a personal trainer.

I read several media accounts of the seige on the Health Ministry, the suicide bomb and mortar attacks on Shiites in Sadr City and retaliatory attacks on Sunnis on Friday and today, but this line from the New York Times jumped out at me:

” . . . health ministry, which was besieged for two hours on Thursday by Sunni Arab insurgents armed with mortars and assault rifles.”

Other accounts said people trapped in the ministry building had repeatedly telephoned for help but it was slow in arriving.

It took two hours for U.S. and Iraqi troops to get to the site of a major seige? Two hours?

One of the very few positives in my ongoing blogging on the war is reading the fine blogs put up by Iraqis and getting to know a few of them a bit. There is a visceral aspect to their posts that can be profoundly humbling, as I’m usually reading them with a nice jazz station on the radio and birds chirping outside my window.

Miraj blogs at Baghdad Chronicles. Try walking in her shoes:

“Woke up at some point in the night on a weird noise, or early morning was it? It was dark. My senses started to realize slowly it was war outside! Heavy shooting! It involved RPG, guns and rifles. In between there was a horrible sound of bombing. I was still not completely awake but those three years made us all experts. It was a bombed car, I could hear the echo, and I could feel the huge flames reaching up to the sky. Another run of heavy shooting. ‘Please God make me sleep again’ I was praying to Allah. Recited some verses while my eyes were still open. Seconds later silence filled the place, like it was a nightmare, only it wasn’t.”

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
  • Miraj is a woman, Shaun.

  • I wonder if the most human thing for the US to do is to help people escape and give them some aide to restart their life.

  • Thank you, Dave. I meant to write “her” but “him” came out.

  • grognard

    Sadr wants to become the Iraqi version of Khomeini. He does not want to rule over any partitioned nation, he will settle only for the complete state of Iraq. That means the total domination of the hated Sunnis that wiped out most of his family under Saddam. His previous challenges to American authority have failed, at the time from not enough public support. But times have changed, the mosque bombing and the Shiite community now looking to the Mahdi army as a revenge and security weapon against the Sunnis makes him more politically potent than ever. I don’t find him all that politically astute, he adjusts his agenda based on public reaction and then freely changes his pronouncements, for example his support then condemnation of “rouge� elements of his army. The dangerous part is that he is a risk taker, he reminds me of Hitler in the types of gambles he will take. The previous skirmish in Najaf against the US reminds me of the Munich putsch, we will see if this time his power grab pans out. He would like nothing more than to have the power behind the throne to topple any government that is objectionable. I think that the only thing standing in his way right now are the other Shiite factions, like the SCIRI, but with most of the conflict occurring in Baghdad he can wait to deal with them.

  • Holly in Cincinnati

    “rouge� elements????

  • grognard

    Holly, LOL, yes the terrorists in makeup!

  • Grognard:

    Your analysis is on the mark. Al-Sadr is a very scary dude.

    The big unknown is how big a role Al-Sadr will play as Iraq continues to disintegrate — if indeed it does. This has been a war of unexpected and often sudden twists and turns. Here are a few:

    * Al-Sadr is assassinated and there is no heir apparent with his clout.

    * He has been losing his grip on elements of the Mahdi Army. What happens if that trend continues and the rogue elements (sorry Holly) join forces with Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups? Remember that the Dream of Dreams for many of these extremists is making Iraq a model Islamic state.

    * Al-Maliki actually hangs tough and for a variety of sectarian, political and regional reasons, Al-Sadr has to back down.

    * Iraq devolves into sectarian states much like Kurdistan but Al-Sadr is marginalized as Shiite pols scramble for power.

    And on and on . . .

  • grognard

    Shaun, yes he is scary, I think he is going along the lines that more chaos is good, then he can be seen as the person that brought stability and order. It doesn’t matter that he was the source of a good deal of the chaos, he just takes credit for ending it. You do have a point on his [makeup wearing] army, does he have control? As his army attracts more recruits, in some cases leaders of small bands joining for access to money and weapons, does he still maintain the same level of control?

  • Andrew

    I wonder if the most human thing for the US to do is to help people escape and give them some aide to restart their life.

    Great plan. I’m sure we can just ship 25 million people to Nebraska or somewhere.

  • Actually, Andrew brings up a dynamic of this profoundly screwed up situation that gets overlooked: If Al-Sadr and other players continue to push Iraq to the point of a national nervous breakdown, that has profound implications for Syria and Jordan, which would be faced with a tidal wave of millions of refugees.

    That is why I believe that Syria and to a lesser extent Jordan will have to begin playing a larger role in the fate of Iraq. Beyond Syria’s designs as a regional player (read Lebanon and Hezbollah) is a pragmatic interest. Helping push Iraq over the edge will have the consequence of dumping a huge humanitarian crisis into its own lap.

  • grognard

    Actually Paul has a point, the reason that the warring factions can get at each other is the mixed neighborhoods around Baghdad, many people would like to leave but out of fear or lack of resources they stay. Separate them and it reduces the opportunity to commit acts of violence. U.S. provided temporary housing, transport, food, and aid stations would go a long way in getting people to go to safer areas and out of harms way. We don’t want to go there because it means separation and partition, an end to Iraq as a state.

  • grognard

    LOL, “Actually� I also agree with Shaun on the humanitarian crisis

  • Rudi

    Those refugee have to get to Jordan and Syria first. The road in such a case maybe paved in blood. The India Pakistan partition was very bloody and served as the basis for multiple wars. The Biden (stolen) partition idea is just a little better than all out civil war.

  • Kim Ritter

    The Biden (stolen) partition idea is just a little better than all out civil war.

    That may very well be true,rudi, but it looks like we are going to be choosing from very bad to worse options, which is probably the reason why we have not heard from the Baker Commission yet, even though they’ve met with Bush privately.

  • Jim S

    You know the conspiracy nuts in the Muslim world who try to claim that the CIA and/or the Mossad were behind 9/11? Al-Sadr is the only person I can see really doing something like this. I can actually see elements in the Mahdi army willing to kill some of their fellow Shia in order to justify what Al-Sadr would like to do to the Sunnis.

  • grognard

    Jim S, well Sadr has had clashes with other Shiite groups, the Badr Brigade for example.

Twitter Auto Publish Powered By :