Thursday, December 21, 2006
the first time was the worst time, the second time was worse than the first time:
In Reuel's New York Times op-ed ("Surge and attack the Sunnis first; then most of the Shiites"), there's this questionable assertion:

Mr. Sadr and his radicalized followers — temperamentally, they are as much children of Saddam Hussein as are the savage Sunnis who glorify the murder of Americans and Shiite civilians — are unlikely to become peaceful players in Iraqi politics. But Mr. Sadr’s reputation can be reduced and his charisma countered if ordinary Shiites have more moderate alternatives, backed by American power, who can protect them from insurgency-loving Sunnis and death-squad Shiites.

Why believe this? If the U.S. throws its weight behind Hakim -- which is what we're talking about, really, if we're talking about "more moderate alternatives" -- Sadr's charisma is way more likely to grow. Sadr's calling card is his family history; his unyielding anti-occupation stance; and now his willingness to murder Sunnis. All of a sudden his chief rival joins with the occupation and begins purging fellow Shiites. As Tony Shadid has shown in Night Draws Near, there isn't a single Shiite political figure that can hope to match Sadr's political charisma. Setting up a pale alternative in Hakim, in all probability, will unite the fracturing Sadr movement and convince the mass of Iraqi Shiites that the U.S.-sponsored political process that so far has worked to the Shiites' benefit holds nothing for them but the choice of collaboration or death. (Furthermore, I don't quite understand what Gerecht's end-state for Sadr is in this scenario, but let's leave that aside for the time being.)

The big lacuna right now is the groundless and dangerous belief that there's some option out there that can simultaneously strengthen Shiite power and weaken Sadr. Guess what: Sadr is Shiite Iraq now. He is the player that matters. He is the one to whom people want to give their loyalties. Believe whatever you want about the strength of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, but Sadr will outlast him. If we're talking about a surge, a last push, an 80-percent solution, a New Way Forward, or what have you, get used to the idea of your sons and daughters dying to protect the power and the privilege of Moqtada Sadr.

UPDATE: From today's Washington Post:

"At this time, whoever has his hands with the Americans or Jews is not an Iraqi," said Hussein, as he chopped up cubes of lamb. "So how could Hakim put his hands with the Americans? There will be tensions because Sayyed Moqtada Sadr is a revolutionary man, like his father. Even if Hakim tries to come back to Sadr, Sadr will never receive his hand."

--Spencer Ackerman