Skip to comments.Analysis: Firebrand cleric more cautious - Muqtada al-Sadr
Posted on 08/07/2006 10:18:27 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi forces strike the Baghdad base of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr but his gunmen hold their fire. U.S. soldiers kill 15 of al-Sadr's followers, drawing little more than a few perfunctory complaints.
That's a dramatic departure in style for the youthful firebrand, who launched two major uprisings against the American-led coalition two years ago when U.S. authorities closed his newspaper and pushed an Iraqi judge into issuing an arrest warrant against him.
If anything, al-Sadr is more powerful today than he was then. But that power is also a restraint: al-Sadr has more to lose by an intemperate move now than in 2004.
And that has held him back so far from sending thousands of armed followers into the streets to exact revenge.
Both al-Sadr and the U.S. military are locked in a high-risk struggle as the Americans seek to restore order to Baghdad and shore up the shaky government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite.
The Americans know they must rein in al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia if they are to disband armed groups believed responsible for the sharp rise in sectarian violence that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
But the Americans cannot afford an all-out move against al-Sadr. That would trigger a backlash among the Shiite majority a nightmare scenario for the troubled U.S. mission in Iraq.
A major push against al-Sadr would also undercut al-Maliki, who relies heavily on al-Sadr for political support.
Al-Sadr's movement holds 30 of the 275 seats in parliament and five Cabinet posts. Al-Sadr's backing helped al-Maliki win the top job during painstaking negotiations within the Shiite alliance that led to the ouster of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
As a result, the Americans have been careful to avoid mentioning the Mahdi Army as the target of their attacks, including the raid early Monday in Sadr City or the July 22 attack on al-Sadr's office in Musayyib where 15 militiamen died.
Instead the Americans prefer to describe the targets as "thugs" or "criminals."
"We must be careful not to demonize the entire Sadrist movement," said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is so sensitive. "No doubt about it. He's a player."
But al-Sadr faces his own conundrum.
He owes much of his prestige within the Shiite community to his defiant stand against the Americans in 2004. His Mahdi militia is feared by Sunni Arabs but viewed by many Shiites as their most reliable protection against Sunni extremists.
An armed showdown with the Americans could cost al-Sadr his close ties to al-Maliki's government, destroy the last vestige of Shiite political unity and in the end result in the deaths of thousands of loyal followers.
At the very least, it could prompt the government and the Americans into a serious effort to disband the Shiite militias, which would mean locking up key leaders and combing Sadr City and other Sadrist strongholds in search of weapons.
To al-Sadr, the real battle is with the Sunni Arabs. The Shiite nightmare is that the Americans might somehow use political turmoil to impose an Iraqi government of their own, heavy with secular politicians instead of the religious parties that now control it.
That would spell the end of the political power the Shiites have long felt was their birthright as Iraq's largest community an estimated 60 percent of the country's 27 million people.
Key al-Sadr lieutenants say privately that they have their "red lines" and that at some point, American pressure will become too great for restraint.
But they have not spelled out those "red lines" if in fact they have determined them.
For the time being, al-Sadr prefers to look for ways to remind the Americans and the Iraqi government that he is a powerful figure who cannot be easily dismissed. That more than admiration for Hezbollah was behind Friday's mass rally in Sadr City in support of the Lebanese Shiite guerrillas fighting the Israelis.
Al-Sadr's aides had proposed a series of rallies across the Shiite heartland. Instead, the cleric decided to bring his followers to Baghdad to remind the authorities that he can muster tens of thousands into the streets.
Will someone please freakin kill this jackass, please? He should have been pushing up cacti back in 03 for God's sake.
The Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia led by Iraqi radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has re-emerged as a key force in Iraqi politics. Sunnis believe his militia is responsible for the kidnapping and killing of thousands of Sunnis over the past few months. Now a plan to shift more U.S. troops to Baghdad to deal with the worsening violence there is seen as putting the American military on a crash course with al-Sadr, shown here in an Aug. 9, 2004, file photo. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
I'm liking that idea more each day.
Two years ago, he had a murder warrant out on him. Now, he's a revered figure. Wonder why the good 'ol USA rule of law doesn't work over there? Maybe because its applied totally indescrimately?
Mookie's going bigtime now, but he's caught between several rocks and hard places - the Americans despise him, Sistani doesn't trust him, the Iranians want to own him, the Sunnis want to kill him, and all that's keeping him alive at the moment is the good graces of, believe it or not, Bush. Mookie may not believe that, but he suspects it, and to find out the truth may cost him more than he can afford. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
Hey, they say he is more cautious.
You'd think the AP was talking about a young Hollywood celebrity with a penchant for bar brawls.
All things in time.
God forgive me. But I think"'kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" is the only way to solve the problem.
Jason, how about this 'cleric'? Would it be anti cleric to call him to task? He'll scare the hell and more out of you if one of his followes were tasked to get you.
nice and concise...
He is playing the same game he has always been playing.
But, Mookie is smart enough to know how far is too far to push the US, which is why he is still alive.
Mookie is betting that he can keep things unstable enough that the US will bail on Iraq and he will be there with Iranian help to take over.
If the Iraqi government doesn't get its ass in gear by this winter I will support a US backed coup to replace the religious idiots in power with secular politicians.
Better that then letting Iran take over.
Isn't he a peach. A bullit between his peepers would improve that photograph.
The dental aspect of this man's life is more interesting!
See post ten.
The Hezzi's are pissed, Iran is spoiling for war, Syria shakes in fear, Mookie is locked in a death grip......President Bush, you are a very bold one. I hope this chess game you play works out.
That would have been an option in 03, but now? He'd just be a revered martyr and more powerful in death than he was in life.
We should take a page from the old Soviet book and "disappear" him.
It only works if you take the king. And you don't do that by playing nice.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr delivers the sermon during traditional Friday prayers attended by about 5,000 worshippers at the Kufa mosque near the holy city of Najaf in Iraq in this Friday, June 30, 2006 file photo where al-Sadr rejected the recently announced national reconciliation plan of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Today, in 2006 al-Sadr and the U.S. military are locked in a high-risk struggle as the Americans seek to restore order to Baghdad and shore up the shaky government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)