The rise of Sadr
Meet the new boss
For the last three years, this site has long understood that the key player in Iraq would be Moqtada Al-Sadr, son of Iraq's most revered Shia Ayatollah. While the western media focused on puppets like Chalabi and Allawi, who had more support within Washington than Iraq, the fact was that only Sadr was poised to actually accrue power within the country.
Sistani was tainted by his cooperation with Saddam. His neutrality was acceptable, but he proved unable to take a leading political role. He then relied on the Hakims and their SCIRI organization. But again, they were tainted by the fact that they had collaborated with the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war.
They would tour the POW camps and try to recruit. The problem, they would help Iranian interrogators during their torture sessions.
So many people had no love of them when they returned.
It was the Sadr family which had earned that love and respect by not going anywhere and dying for their beliefs.
While the Western media was writing off Sadr as a clown, even in Newsweek, they try to make him the Iraqi Paully Walnuts. And he is anything but.
After Saddam killed his father, he sent two goons to Sadr to see if he could be bought off. He told them to piss off, knowing that would get him killed, One of his followers took the bribe to save his life.
Now, it could have been stagecraft, but the odds are it wasn't. And if it wasn't, it meant that he wasn't the crazed simpleton people wanted to pretend he was.
Part of the reason Sistani wanted no part of him was his relative youth. Part was that Sadrism is a movement of the poor. So basically, he represented the majority of Iraq, the poor Shia. Which Sistani and the Hakims wanted no part of.
Chalabi also wanted him out of the way, and goaded Bremer into arresting him and shutting his paper.
With a simple call to arms, the Mahdi Army was formed and was taking on the US in Sadr City, otherwise known as Northeast Baghdad and Najaf.
While the line was that the unprepared Mahdi Army was waxed by the US, what people missed is that A: It didn't exist in January 2004. By April, Casey Sheehan was dead at their hand.
They lost the April battles, but gained a political and military status that didn't exist. The Badr Organization, the name of SCIRI's Army, played a different game. They joined the Army. Their
lead formation turned into the Wolf Brigade.
They even had a TV show, before it became clear that they were more like Arkan's paramilitaries than an Army unit. When the US Army tripped up on their victims, oddly, all Sunni, the government said to shut up and go away.
As Badr members joined the police and Army, so did the Mahdi Army members. Eventually it was clear they had very different agendas. SCIRI wanted a Shia state, which they would run, the Sadrists wanted to run Iraq, all of Iraq.
Eventually, they would butt heads in Basra. And SCIRI lost. The Sadrists took control of Basra and the Mayram and Amarah provinces, leaving SCIRI with a much smaller base.
It is safe to say that the Badr base is in the Army and that the Sadrists dominate the police and have a large share in the Army.
Sadr grew in stature not because he changed his opinion, but because he didn't. He had been a nationalist in 2003 and is one now. And while the US was fighting the Sunni insurgency, the Mahdi Army was growing. The men in black slowly started to take over Baghdad. While the US was chasing ghosts in Fallujah and losing in Ramadi, the Madhi Army got trained and got larger.
When you hear estimates of strength of any of these groups, take them with a pound of salt. Their numbers are flexible in the extreme. Attack Sadr City and you might find 20K members of the Mahdi Army.
Sistani and the other Shia pols begged Sadr to join the government this winter. And after blackmailing them into signing an agreement to ask the Americans to leave, his party joined up. Maliki, who as a member of the Dawa party, has no militia, is dependent on the Mahdi Army to stay alive, but it is clear that they are tiring of them.
The idea that Bush would, could, should eliminate Sadr is insane on it's face. First of all, he's already more symbol than man, with militias he barely controls, yet fight on in the family's name. Second, you want to unite the Shia, harm Sadr. He is the single most popular politician in Iraq, bar none.
Now with Bush meeting with the Hakims, three years too late, they may try to create an anti-Sadr front. But it hands Sadr a hammed to discredit the Hakims.
Anyway, that's way too late in the game to do anything but ease Sadr's rise to power.
posted by Steve @ 8:03:00 PM