Tuesday, May 22, 2007
reach out in the darkness:
Mutlak might be waiting for Sadr to take a step. Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi's ISI-hunting Anbar Salvation Council isn't. Wow.
In an unprecedented step, a top leader of the pro-US tribal alliance in Anbar Province traveled to Sadr City Tuesday to meet with leaders of the Sadrist current.

Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, who leads the armed wing of the US-backed movement known as the Anbar Awakening, or the Anbar Salvation Council, held a rare meeting with Sadrist leaders in Baghdad’s Sadr City, the bastion of support for the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and stronghold of the Mahdi Army.

“This meeting is a message to Iraqi politicians to get rid of their differences and to seek real reconciliation,” Hayis said, according to the AFP.

“We are trying to pressure (the government) to make political changes for the sake of the Iraqi people who are drowning in the blood of their sons,” Hayis added.

“This visit shows that Iraqi tribes are standing side by side and they are the nail in the coffin of the abhorrent sectarianism which has split our country,” said Shi'a Sheikh Malik Sewadi al-Mohammedawi, whom AFP identifies as the head of one of Sadr City’s most influential tribes.

According to a Sadr spokesman, Abdul Sattar will visit Sadr -- in Najaf. That's right, Najaf: the holiest city in Shiite Iraq, which just so happens to be under the control of Sadr's rivals in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. If this pans out, Sadr will be bringing the anti-takfiri Sunnis to Najaf, parading under the noses of his rivals that he's the authentic repository of both real Shiite protection and Iraqi nationalism.

Also:

(Sadr City's Shi'a Sheikh Malik Sewadi) Mohammedawi blamed the country’s sectarian strife on “occupation forces and foreign takfiris,” using a common term for Sunni extremists, derived from the practice of takfir, or branding fellow Muslims as unbelievers.

OK. If this is really happening, Sadr's people will be dealing with the Anbar Salvation Council, which consists of -- to put it bluntly -- collaborators with the occupation forces. This is a fairly strong signal that al-Qaeda has fucked up so overwhelmingly that now the Sadrists don't consider "collaboration" to be a deal breaker for prospective partnerships.

Now, there's a certain alliance of convenience here: both the Salvation Front and the Sadrists seek to undercut their inter-sectarian rivals, and neither particularly like the Maliki government. Fine! A pathway out of the death-spiral of sectarian warfare, combined with a mutual interest in extirpating al-Qaeda that's greater than a desire to kill Americans -- well, that's, that's, that's... as much as you could possibly ask for. A timetable for withdrawal would probably sweeten the pot here considerably.

--Spencer Ackerman
Potentially awesome.

Still I think ASC is not necessarily a fan of the timetable, at least not until they can establish full dominance over their areas in Anbar.
Blogger Tequila | 3:03 AM

That's my impression as well. But they also don't want an indefinite occupation. If the Sadrists came up with a scheme to get the U.S. out by, say, summer 2009, that would probably please everyone.
Blogger spencerackerman | 6:23 AM

If the Sadrists came up with a scheme to get the U.S. out by, say, summer 2009, that would probably please everyone.

Except the US - at least the Bush administration (which could, conceivably, be sidelined in anticipation of US regime change as long as they don't need Bush to sign off on the plan).

Sadr's people will be dealing with the Anbar Salvation Council, which consists of -- to put it bluntly -- collaborators with the occupation forces. This is a fairly strong signal that al-Qaeda has fucked up so overwhelmingly that now the Sadrists don't consider "collaboration" to be a deal breaker for prospective partnerships.

I'm not sure I follow the logic here. Are you saying that the Sadrists have, previously, refused to work with collaborators of the occupation?

Wouldn't the term "collaborators" also include the Iraqi government itself, housed in the Green Zone and requiring at least the tacit approval of the US (who happens to provide a lot of funding, training of military forces, security, etc).

One of the political blocs collaborating by taking part in the governments also happens to be...the Sadrists. Recent distancing notwithstanding.

Or is that last bit the point: now they are taking a hard-line stance against collaboration, as signified by their withdrawal of six ministers from the Maliki govt.
Blogger Eric | 8:17 AM

No, you're right -- an obvious oversight on my part. But Sadr's found it useful to speak out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to his Shiite rivals who embrace politics more forthrightly: he'll send his men to stand for parliament in the interest of "Shiite unity", deference to the Hawza, etc, and stay outside of the process himself while intimating that Jaafari or SIIC or, now, Maliki is a tool of the foreigners.

With *Sunni* "collaborators," Sadr has no such ability for a two-step. He can't claim that fealty to Sistani forces him to embrace, say, Rishawi. He can emphasize that Iraqi nationalism compels him to, but that only works if the bigger "invader" is al-Qaeda as opposed to the Americans. Maybe this is wrong, but it seems to me to have utility as a barometric measurement.
Blogger spencerackerman | 8:34 AM

But Sadr's found it useful to speak out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to his Shiite rivals who embrace politics more forthrightly: he'll send his men to stand for parliament in the interest of "Shiite unity", deference to the Hawza, etc, and stay outside of the process himself while intimating that Jaafari or SIIC or, now, Maliki is a tool of the foreigners.

Absolutely true.

The million dollar question: When push comes to shove, which side o' the mouth does Sadr line up behind? I've gone back and forth on this (and of course its contingent*), but lately I've been siding with the belief that Sistani keeps him in the Shiite fold, as the "popular, nationalist" guy with all that street cred and all those fighters. Useful guy to have around in a fight.

*Contingent on the extent to which Dawa and SIIC get greedy and try to shut Sadr out of the power and money in the South (the shrines and the oil - what it's always been about for each of 'em). If they push Sadr too hard (which the US has been trying to encourage and support), Sadr could bolt. I think that much of his recent public maneuvering has served the purpose of reminding SIIC, Dawa and Sistani of his indispensability (don't push me, cause I'm close to the edge...).

But my hunch all along has been that Sistani recognizes the dangers here, and continues to remind all the interested parties how divide and conquer works, and how they could be playing themselves by going along with the US plan to Get Mookie.

With *Sunni* "collaborators," Sadr has no such ability for a two-step. He can't claim that fealty to Sistani forces him to embrace, say, Rishawi. He can emphasize that Iraqi nationalism compels him to, but that only works if the bigger "invader" is al-Qaeda as opposed to the Americans.

An interesting distinction. But I think you're right that Sadr gets his "out" because he's working with Sunnis to bring about reconciliation, against foreign elements and the like. Because he's a "nationalist" at heart and all that jazz.

Besides, even those Sunni collaborators will likely hop on board the "get out soon" express with respect to the US. So Sadr can recoup his "nationalist" capital that he put in escrow to work with them on AQ.

[BTW: Sorry to be such a nitpicker lately, trust me that it comes from someone whose been a big fan of your work for some time. And trying to unravel the intrigue requires effort and dialog - which you provide in spades.]
Blogger Eric | 9:02 AM

The unanswered question: where does the RJF fit into this, and with the ASC? Are there tribal ties that we can discern between key RJF figures and the ASC? And how opposed have they been to Sadr in the past?
Blogger Tequila | 1:58 PM