Sunday, May 20, 2007
we can be together, c'mon all you people standing around:
Babak Rahimi has a good analysis forthcoming from Jamestown about Moqtada Sadr's outreach to the Sunnis highlighted in this Post piece. To Rahimi, it really is all about seizing internal Shiite control: if Sadr can yield a Sunni-Shiite accord, he'll deliver the security against attack that Shiites desperately want, and he appeals to a Shiite-centric Iraqi identity. His rivals in SIIC and the broader United Iraqi Alliance see themselves marginalized as Iranian proxies, and their Shiite support erodes. (That's why, Rahimi contends, SCIRI changed to SIIC and pledged itself to Grand Ayatollah Sistani.) As an insurance policy, in case it really goes down, Sadr might be able to enlist the support of, say, the Islamic Army of Iraq against the Badr Corps.

It should be said that it's a question of degree whether Sadr is really repositioning himself here. Sadr has always portrayed himself as a voice of Iraqi nationalism and an opponent of sectarianism, even as the Mahdi Army has sourced Sunni elements. The post-Samarra situation saw Sunnis blaming Mahdi forces for practically every attack. Would they accept an olive branch from Sadr now?

Even as Sadr struggles to reform his militia, mistrust runs deep on the streets. Khulood Habib, 45, a Sunni seamstress and mother of four, lives in Baghdad's Risala neighborhood, where tensions are growing after recent bomb attacks on Shiite areas. In the last week of April, gunmen kidnapped two Sunni men near Habib's apartment. The next day, their bodies were found mutilated and tortured -- a signature practice of Shiite militias.

Two days later, Habib received an envelope containing a bullet and a letter signed by the Mahdi Army that ordered her to leave within 24 hours. The next afternoon, gunmen began to drive out the Sunnis in her building. Soon, they were in front of her apartment.

"They broke the door down. It fell on my little boy's leg and broke it," Habib recalled, round-faced with light brown hair peeking from underneath her black head scarf. "He was screaming. I was screaming."

Sadr is said to be cashiering Mahdi commanders who attack Sunnis. If you're a Sunni, you may not be so eager to accept that Sadr wants to be your friend, and if his crew attacks you, he never meant it to be that way. Furthermore, what happens to the fired Mahdi elements? Rahimi argues that it's only a matter of time before they mount a proper challenge to Sadr, further scrambling the Shiite power struggle. If Sunni/al-Qaeda attacks on Shiites continue while Sadr is urging peace, he risks being out-demagogued. Irony is indeed for suckers.

Meanwhile, General Petraeus wrote a letter to Iraqis urging unity, but it remains to be seen if he'll accept a unity of sectarian extremes. If those extremes hold -- even though who knows what agenda a Sadr-IAI-driven coalition would adopt in power -- it would probably yield an acceptable outcome to the United States: an illiberal but united Iraq that doesn't like the U.S. but hates al-Qaeda more.
--Spencer Ackerman
Meanwhile, General Petraeus wrote a letter to Iraqis urging unity, but it remains to be seen if he'll accept a unity of sectarian extremes. If those extremes hold -- even though who knows what agenda a Sadr-IAI-driven coalition would adopt in power -- it would probably yield an acceptable outcome to the United States: an illiberal but united Iraq that doesn't like the U.S. but hates al-Qaeda more.

The heart of the matter is this: Would that "Sadr-IAI-driven" coalition force the US military to leave? The ultimate disposition of that question would seem to be the most important factor for the Bush administration to consider when pondering the acceptability of the coalition.
Blogger Eric | 12:07 PM