Saturday, June 02, 2007
no peace talks!:
Nizar Latif scores an interview with Moqtada for the Independent on Sunday. No questions are answered about the course of Sadr's Sunni outreach. Instead, Sadr reiterates his bread and butter message: No, No, U.S.A., etc etc.


"The Americans have tried to kill me in the past, but have failed... It is certain that the Americans still want me dead and are still trying to assassinate me.

"I am an Iraqi, I am a Muslim, I am free and I reject all forms of occupation. I want to help the Iraqi people. This is everything the Americans hate."

What's barometrically significant, given Sadr's stance, is that he continues to call for a timetable [for the U.S.] to leave this country," rather than simply taking the less complicated out-now stance. "We must know that they are leaving, and we must know when," he tells Latif. So he would like, but we're not, despite the rationalizations of the Washington Post's edit page to portray the push for an indefinite U.S. presence in Iraq as a mission of responsible governance. It's unlikely that Sadr, in the middle of jockeying for power within Shiite Iraq, would take this position unless he sensed that the Shiites don't want the U.S. out just this instant -- that is to say, if they didn't quite understandably fear what will happen in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal. Since Sadr's back in the spotlight, the way his rhetoric changes (or doesn't) on this subject in the wake of the South Korea Declaration will be worth watching.


Also barometrically significant: Sadr distances himself from Iran (later in the interview) but embraces Hezbollah:


Mr Sadr, whose rise to become one of the most influential figures in Iraq
coincided with the US overthrow of Saddam, said his movement sought to follow
the example of Hizbollah, the Shia armed resistance movement in Lebanon.
"Hizbollah and the Mahdi Army are two sides of the same coin," he said. "We are
together in the same trench against the forces of evil."

It may be hard in the U.S. to understand how someone can revere Hezbollah and be lukewarm on Iran, but it's a coherent position. Hezbollah fights Israel and drives the Shiite community in Lebanon. Iran has a fraught history with Iraq -- to say the least -- and severely complicates Shiite Arabs' relations with their Sunni neighbors more broadly. It's likely that Sadr is underplaying his own connections to the Iran, but, again, reading Sadr as a cipher text for his constituents is what's important here.

--Spencer Ackerman
Could it be that Sadr's stand against Iranian meddling is itself an overture to Iraq's Sunnis? When he says, "Iraq is a matter for the Iraqis," is he suggesting, "Iraq is a matter for the Arabs of Iraq (be they Sunni or Shia), and not a matter for the foreign Persians?"
Blogger The Special | 2:26 PM

It's unlikely that Sadr, in the middle of jockeying for power within Shiite Iraq, would take this position unless he sensed that the Shiites don't want the U.S. out just this instant -- that is to say, if they didn't quite understandably fear what will happen in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal.

I agree, and this is an enormous opportunity to leverage our withdrawal in negotiations, the fundamental gamble being that there will be enough actors, prominently including Sadr, who are more interested in the U.S. withdrawing in an orderly way and figuring out what happens after that now (and interested enough in maximizing their power in that process) than in either getting the U.S. out now or just waiting for the U.S. to get out and starting to slaughter one's adversaries; and that getting those actors, partly on the basis of locally-based agreements, to form some kind of coalition with each other could lead to a less bad outcome when we have, in fact, withdrawn than otherwise.

Watch for it.

I also agree the stuff about Sadr distancing himself from Iran is significant.
Blogger JDL | 10:41 PM

He's still trying to counter that report that he ducked out of Iraq at the beginning of the surge, isn't he? That was his father's claim to fame, after all: that he stayed and resisted, unlike many of the other important Shia clerics, and was killed for it.
Blogger Jackmormon | 7:51 PM

Do you think Sadr's favorite song is "Nash"?
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Blogger Addison | 1:21 AM