Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ UPDATE....The New York Times reports that Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has mostly melted away in Basra. Nobody quite knows why, or whether it's permanent, or what it means. But there's also this:

Mr. Sadr issued a statement on Saturday threatening that he would declare "open war until liberation" against the government if the crackdown against his followers did not cease, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, said the government had abused the trust he tried to sow in August by declaring a unilateral truce.

Whether to counter allegations that Iran actively supported the Mahdi Army, or simply because, as many Iraqis have recently speculated, Mr. Sadr's stock has recently fallen in Iranian eyes, the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, on Saturday expressed his government's strong support for the Iraqi assault on Basra. Even more strikingly, he called the militias in Basra "outlaws," the same term that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has used to describe them.

.... Mr. Maliki's abrupt assault on Basra last month has been widely criticized as being poorly planned. But it is believed to have been encouraged by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [ISCI], a crucial element of his governing coalition. Many members of the armed wing of the council, called the Badr Organization, joined the government's security forces early in the Iraq conflict, and have been battling the Sadr-led forces. Mr. Sadr's political movement is also an important rival of the supreme council.

Because leaders of the council and its armed wing spent years and sometimes decades in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein's regime, it was assumed that the silence of the Badr Organization during the Basra offensive indicated that Iran had given at least tacit approval for the move.

Mr. Qumi's statements now give strong support to that view. They also suggest that Iran, which has historically tried to play Shiite groups against each other in Iraq, has decided to pull back on its support for the group that American officials have continually pointed to as an Iranian-trained troublemaker: Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army.

This gibes with other recent evidence (see here) that Iran might finally have decided to stop playing both sides and instead abandon Sadr and throw more of its weight behind ISCI and the current government. The current government is, after all, more pro-Iran than Sadr has ever been, so this is hardly unthinkable.

As always, it's hard to say what's really going on here. But it's possible that the ground is shifting. This might be good news, or it might be in the "be careful what you wish for" category. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 5:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

Maybe Sadr will stop his religious studies in Iran, declare himself an instant imam and start issuing fatwas or something.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on April 19, 2008 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Is it possible that Iran is positioning itself for an not too distant withdrawal of American troops? Iran would like to see a stable and freindly Iraq on its border once the U.S. leaves. Instability may be desirable while the U.S. is still there. But it increasingly appears as if a Democratic victory in the Fall is likely, so maybe now is the time to start the process of strengthing the hand of the central government.

Posted by: Cap and Gown on April 19, 2008 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

The traditional forces of Iraq politics have been joined by the US to continue the historical domination of the poorest and largest sectarian population of Iraqi Shiites.

Posted by: Brojo on April 19, 2008 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

As always, it's hard to say what's really going on here. But it's possible that the ground is shifting. This might be good news, or it might be in the "be careful what you wish for" category.

So another words, nothing has changed there what so ever.

Posted by: Keith G. on April 19, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

This gibes with other recent evidence (see here) that Iran might finally have decided to stop playing both sides and instead abandon Sadr and throw more of its weight behind ISCI and the current government. The current government is, after all, more pro-Iran than Sadr has ever been, so this is hardly unthinkable.

I agree with Cap & Gown's assessment - Iran prefers a stable next door neighbor.

While supporting Sadr is understandable, especially from the perspective of screwing with the US occupation, ultimately they have to pick a side and Maliki's government is far more in step with Iran's interests than Sadr's more nationalistic militia.

Plus, continued support for Sadr just antagonizes Washington. Fun's fun, but Maliki's government and ISCI are the real powers, and I think Iran knows it.

Posted by: Monty on April 19, 2008 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, isn't Iran the folks who just brokered the ceasefire in Basra after the Iraq security forces encountered a situation that developed not necessarily to their advantage?

I would look at what they do, rather than what they say, and if the Mahdi Army is off the streets, you have to ask where they went.

Posted by: paul on April 19, 2008 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Sadr gave Maliki a 24-hour ultimatum today.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on April 19, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

OK, picky picky picky time:
it jibes (in accord with) not gibes (to make mock of or sneer at)

So sorry

Posted by: Carol on April 19, 2008 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly, the best outcome for the US in the October elections in Iraq might be that followers of Sadr gain power, demand that we remove our troops, and we take advantage of the declaration to do precisely that.

Posted by: Outis on April 19, 2008 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

Wheels within wheels within whe............

Posted by: R.L. on April 19, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Who's on first?

Posted by: R.L. on April 19, 2008 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Are you talking to me?

Posted by: absent observer on April 19, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Al-Sadr issuing an ultimatum is like a drowning man threatening to kill himself.

Posted by: vstol on April 19, 2008 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

It would be cool if you could write more about how scuzzy the media has become- stuff like the ABC debate and MSNBC and Fox News falsely claiming that Obama flipped off Hillary- and less about the nitty-gritty of Iraq.

We have to save our home before we think about saving somebody else's. Otherwise you might as well get ready for McCain in '08.

Posted by: Swan on April 19, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

I hope writing about the Middle East doesn't become a way for you to avoid writing about American politics.

Posted by: Swan on April 19, 2008 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to fathom what's going on, but must be good.

all glory to our dear leader (praise be upon him).

Posted by: gregor on April 19, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

It would be cool if you could write more about how scuzzy the media has become

Would this constitute some of that stellar "legal advice" you're not giving people because you cannot find a job, sir?

Call us when you can comment intelligently. I hardly doubt anyone will bother to answer...

Posted by: Norman Rogers on April 19, 2008 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Sadr may be a lot of things, but connected to Iran is not one of them. Where AP reports that 'Sadr is believed to be in Iran' is simply AP reporting un-named US Mil sources who have been trying to paint Sadr as Iranian backed for the last couple years now. Whenever he lays low he is always reported to be 'hiding in Iran'. Those reports are always from US Mil sources and should always be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Posted by: Mike on April 19, 2008 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, no, Mike. He really does visit Iran. His ties are to different factions inside of Iran--i.e., there is no single constituency in Iran that speaks with one voice. Just because he goes there doesn't mean he has "ties" but it's wrong to suggest that he doesn't go there.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/23/AR2006012301701.html

BAGHDAD, Jan. 23 -- An Iraqi Muslim cleric who leads a major Shiite militia pledged to come to the defense of neighboring Iran if it were attacked, aides to the cleric, Moqtada Sadr, said Monday.

The commitment, made Sunday in Tehran during a visit by Sadr, came in response to a senior Iranian official's query about what the cleric would do in the event of an attack on Iran. It marked the first open indication that Iraq's Shiite neighbor is preparing for a military response if attacked in a showdown with the West over its nuclear program.

[Caption of a photo of Sadr in Iran:] Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr, left, speaks with reporters in Tehran after meeting with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. (Associated Press)

The pledge was also one of the strongest signs yet that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western conflict with Iran, raising the specter of Iraqi Shiite militias -- or perhaps even the U.S.-trained Shiite-dominated military -- taking on American troops here in sympathy with Iran.

Posted by: Pale Rider on April 20, 2008 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Doesn't matter if it's Sadr or Iran, they both don't like the US, and Iran does not want to offer ANY oil contracts to US interest, same as the old Saddam didn't want to either, but of course Iran is as nasty to it's people as Saddam was, and it most likely is a lot closer to getting a real Nuke.

If the Mideast has ever had any reason to pull together, well Bushie has given them one. Hate for the US.

Posted by: me-again on April 20, 2008 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

"This gibes with other recent evidence"

Jibes, yes. "Gibes," no.

Posted by: Gary Farber on April 20, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

If Sadr goes away, The US will switch to backing the Sunnis.

Posted by: Goran on April 20, 2008 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

Just for the record, when I comment on this site people post comments (which the comment at 10:47 is a good example of) attacking me, but without any reasons-- this regularly happens to me, and doesn't regularly happen to anybody else.

10 years from now if any of you want to tell your children what this period was like, that's something you can tell them.

Posted by: Swan on April 20, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

It is useful to remember that Al Sadr has repeatedly warned Iran to stay out of Iraq - most recently two weeks ago. Our pals Maliki and Hakim are the ones who want Iranian involvement and who had to go running to Iran to save their skins in Basra. Relying on any reporting by Michael pentagon-mouthpiece Gordon is silly at best. While Sadr has been making an appeal for Iraqi unity as brothers and sisters in faith, Maliki, Hakim and the US has been deliberately provoking his followers. I suspect they have pushed once too hard.

When indigenous nationalist forces go "invisible" it usually means things are about to get much worse for the occupiers.

Posted by: Siun on April 20, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

10 years from now if any of you want to tell your children what this period was like, that's something you can tell them.

Ten minutes from now, I still won't give a fuck.

Posted by: Pale Rider on April 20, 2008 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

This illegal occupation and the associated endless blood-letting ceased being absurd long ago and has become an international obscenity. George W. Bush may be the worst pornographer in the history of the universe.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on April 20, 2008 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

One way to backfire: Many Iraqis resent "Persian" influence, and for Iran to show support for suppressing al-Sadr just makes him more popular.

Posted by: Neil B. on April 20, 2008 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Read Michael Yon's blog for a reality check on what is actually happening in Iraq. Either that or talk to marines or soldiers who are actually serving in Iraq. Unfortunately, 99% of you will probably label Mr. Yon as part of a vast right wing conspiracy devoted to spinning the news on Iraq.

Only myopic ostriches could turn the remarkable defeat of Muqtada al-Sadr into defeat for Iraq and America.

BTW, I don't believe even Barack Obama thinks the invasion or subsequent "occupation" was or is illegal.

Posted by: seneca on April 21, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, the Weekly Standardites are here with the mantra that the Mahdi army "got their asses kicked." No, they didn't.

So, in sum, the Bush cultists are celebrating the fact that the Iraqi "army" could only take Basra after they no longer had an army to fight (because Iran asked the Mahdis to stand down).

Since Bush cultists like the perpetual liar and America-hater Michael Yon are devoted to making sure that we stay in Iraq, thereby killing as many Americans and Iraqis as possible, this is understandable. Those of us who are not committed to American defeat will tend to advocate that we stop supporting Maliki's Iranian thug government and pull out of Iraq, this being the only way to end the civil war.

Posted by: T.B. on April 21, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

It is laughable that you are relying upon unnamed British officers and the Telegraph.

For the most part, the British are pompous asses. My friends in Afghanistan despise them.

Posted by: seneca on April 21, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

"This illegal occupation and the associated endless blood-letting ceased being absurd long ago and has become an international obscenity. George W. Bush may be the worst pornographer in the history of the universe."

Cute, but, among other things, tell me how this occupation is illegal since, in fact, the U.S. is no longer formally occupying Iraq. Last time I checked, Iraq has a duly constituted, fairly elected, and internationally recognized government--hell, even the Iranians have an ambassador in Baghdad.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_missions_of_Iraq

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diplomatic_missions_in_Iraq

As for "illegal," what precisely constitutes "legal" in your fevered, Neptune-orbiting mind? As memory serves, the UN passed some 17 different resolutions against Saddam Hussein's regime prior to 2003 and effectively enforced...none of them. So tell me pal, what good is "legality" if you're unable or unwilling to enforce it? Hmmmmmmmmmm?????

Posted by: MarkJ on April 21, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

My god, what a stupid lot of bastards inhabit this place, though thankfully, not all are without a hint of a clue.

There's nothing hard to divine about this at all, unless you're one of the folks who's believed the media narrative that Sadr's clans have retained any control at all.

They've had their asses comprehensively kicked by the IA, with help from the US Military.

And while it may be easier to pretend this isn't the case, in order to support the bullshit head game that's been foisted on the American people by the media, that doesn't make it any less true.

Posted by: Frank Liszt on April 22, 2008 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

"Nobody quite knows why."
A)They are dead.
B)The are attempting to avoid being made dead.
Questions?

Posted by: Hurricane567 on April 22, 2008 at 5:35 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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