Iraq: Does Sadr Have the Upper Hand?

We may have good news with respect to the fighting in Iraq from AP News but let’s first turn to a round-up of recent events provided by Juan Cole:

Iraqi Police surrendering to the Mahdi Army in Baghdad … Aljazeera English does a report on the fighting between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army. The video shows that the Mahdi Army is still in control of its Basra neighborhood strongholds … The Iranian foreign ministry called Saturday for an end to the fighting, saying that it strengthens the US hand in Iraq and may have the consequence of prolonging the US presence. Iran tends to back the Da’wa Party of Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, so it is significant that Tehran is criticizing this push by those two to destroy the Sadr Movement. I take them at their word. They are genuinely afraid that al-Maliki’s poorly conceived campaign will backfire and that Bush will use it to insist on keeping troops in Iraq.

Let’s see. The Iranians believe that this Maliki assault on Sadr’s forces is backfiring on the Iraqi government and will be abused by the Bush Administration to prolong the US presence in Iraq. It also appears that the government assault is not working all that well. So what is AP reporting?

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Sunday that he was pulling his fighters off the streets nationwide and called on the government to stop raids against his followers and free them from prison. The Iraqi government quickly welcomed al-Sadr’s apparent move to resolve a widening conflict with his movementparked Tuesday by operations against his backers in the oil-rich southern city of Basra. Al-Sadr’s nine-point statement was issued by his headquarters in the holy city of Najaf and broadcast through loudspeakers on Shiite mosques. It said the first point was: “taking gunmen off the streets in Basra and elsewhere.” He also demanded that the Iraqi government stop “haphazard raids” and release security detainees who haven’t been charged, two issues cited by his movement as reasons for fighting the government.

It seems Sadr is brokering a peace but with a price – that the Maliki government back off. Kevin Drum notes:

So apparently Sadr remains willing to continue his cease-fire, but only if Maliki stands down. In the meantime, he has no intention of giving up his weapons and has demanded the return of captured Mahdi Army fighters. Overall, this sounds likes it’s an offer to Maliki to declare victory and then leave town.

If Maliki accepts this deal, his government will look weak. If he declines this deal, no telling what will happen in Iraq. Forgive me – but this looks like a lose, lose situation for the Maliki government. But President Bush thought the Maliki decision to invade was a great decision:

“I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq,” Bush said at the White House.”The decision to move troops, Iraqi troops, into Basra talks about Prime Minister Maliki’s leadership.”

Yes – we are ruled by an idiot.