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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.”

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