Friday, September 14, 2007

Muqtada al-Sadr Is Key to Iraq's Recovery

Solving Iraq - Part II

On no less then half a dozen occasions in these pages have I suggested, stressed or contended that Muqtada al-Sadr is a figure who is critical to resolving our occupation of Iraq, not to mention revolving sovereignty back in to Iraqi hands. Just to establish my bona fides, I have done that here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I am running out of words and ways to express this message. So today, I am relying on an excellent piece by Adil E. Shamoo, If You Want Peace in Iraq, Stop Trying to Kill Muqtada al-Sadr and Negotiate With Him. (How could it be put any clearer?)

Before I go any further, the big IF in Shamoo's title should be noted: judging from the deadlock in Congress enabled by the Bush Republicans and the Bushlite Democrats, independent observers would conclude that Americans are content to keep
indefinitely their ill-gotten spoils (oil and military bases) from Bush's preventive war. So there is a big IF.

But that's another story, isn't it?

In presenting Shamoo's argument, I have added my own bold-facing and bullet-points:

News reports indicate that the U. S. is negotiating with the Shiite nationalist Muqtada Al-Sadr, leader of the powerful Mahdi Army. Washington should accommodate Al-Sadr's demands to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal or re-deployment of our forces as well as to enhance the possibility of a more peaceful outcome for Iraq.

Negotiating with Al-Sadr is distasteful to some Americans. American blood has been spilled by those who have followed him. But this is war, and the United States has already crossed this barrier by arming and collaborating with Sunnis in the Al-Anbar region who have fought and killed far more Americans than al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Moreover, the British just negotiated the withdrawal of their troops from Basra with Sadr's forces in the south, notwithstanding the recent hollow claim made by their defense and foreign secretaries in a recent opinion piece.

In the simplest possible terms, the United States should negotiate with Sadr because he is arguably the most powerful politician in the country today. At present, Muqtada al-Sadr has millions of Shiite followers, and among his fiercest supporters are the poor living under squalid conditions in al-Sadr city, named after his father. He controls six cabinet members and 30 lawmakers. More importantly, Al-Sadr has the Mahdi Army beside him -- even if he does not control all of it. If elections were held today, he could double his support in the parliament. Yet unless there is meaningful acceptance of some of Sadr's demands, this voting bloc in parliament will likely further paralyze the Iraqi government.

Al-Sadr has shown remarkable flexibility and acumen since our invasion, increasing his support dramatically during our occupation. Many of his followers are willing to die for him. His three-part approach of participating in democracy, fighting the government, and building a grass roots, service-oriented organization has endeared him to most Iraqis.

Al-Sadr became popular because he has espoused policies and services that are admired by most Iraqis.
  • He is fiercely nationalistic.
  • His support includes many Shiites who were among the poorest and most oppressed during Saddam's regime.
  • His Army and his followers provide safety to the areas they control.
  • He facilitates the daily services of healthcare, education, water and electricity, often where the Iraqi government and occupation forces have failed.
  • He advocates a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
  • He wants Iraqi oil to remain under the control of the central government.
  • He strongly condemns the killing of Iraqis whether Sunnis (no matter what happened in the past) or Christians.
  • Finally, like most Iraqis, he wants the country to stay unified. Sadr has even ordered his Mahdi Army to stand down for six months to help coalition forces have a clear fight against Al Qaeda.
In order to prevent the Iranians from setting up a puppet regime in Baghdad or at least in southern Iraq, we need to recognize that the stability in Iraq requires a nationalist, and not a U.S. puppet, government. As the most active Shiite spokesman, Sadr is the key to represent the unique interests of Iraq's Shiites, who do not want to be dominated by the Shiites of Iran. This Iraqi nationalist government, in the long run, would create a greater likelihood of cooperation with the United States for the reconstruction of Iraq. But that cooperation hinges on our respect for Iraqi sovereignty, maintaining the federal ownership of their oil and keeping Iraq intact. More importantly, the nationalist government could eliminate the insurgent group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Nations react differently to the presence of foreign forces on their soil. The presence of U.S. forces is accepted by the citizens of Kuwait, Qatar and, to some degree, by the Kurds in Northern Iraq. However, in the rest of Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, and in much of the Middle East, the presence of U.S. forces is not tolerated.

We think we can win the hearts and mind of Iraqis if we do a good job on their security, health, education and economy. We assumed that by ensuring these services we would be loved -- or at least tolerated. We have not been able to accomplish this because we have ignored the most important element that angers the Iraqis -- the presence of nearly 300,000 U.S. troops and contractors on Iraqi soil, trying vainly to enforce the laws of a government that was not designed to represent the nationalistic longings of its people.

History is full of examples that occupation breeds resentment leading to the creation of extreme elements. Once there is peace and foreign troops are out, the popularity of the extremists wanes while the popularity of moderates increases. If our policy towards extremists includes negotiation, it may well result in strengthening the moderates within the same movement as well as enhancing other moderate movements.

We need to think of policies that in the long run will serve our national interests while also serving the interests of humanity. This will happen when our policies are moral and perceived as such by others. It is time to accommodate the demands of some with groups that have opposed us and begin to moderate their policies by dialog and engagement for the good of Iraqis as well as Americans.

The relevance of all of this is, of course, predicated on a well-intentioned American policy - not one bent on exploiting Iraq for oil reserves and permanent military bases.
Adil E. Shamoo,
born and raised in Baghdad,
is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

11 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Yellow Dog said...

On the Bushlite Democrats backslap, I am grudgingly coming to the conclusion that the Congressional (House and Senate) Democrats are just not united on Iraq. Part of the problem is numbers. It's not that we didn't win last November, it's that we just didn't win big enough: there are still too many lame Republicans lounging around in the halls of Congress. For the Democrats, party unity, by itself, is important going in to 2008. All that may be possible is to fix the idea that the Iraqi project is the last bad idea of the G.O.P. All of humpty-dumpty's Crockers and Petraeus's is not going to stop the broken eggs in Mesopotamia from further rot.

9/14/2007 06:58:00 AM  
Blogger J.C. said...

Bush never was interested in any thing other than destroying Iraq, and then recasting it somehow, as an American satellite of economic, and political control.
Oil was the name of the game, then and now.
Without the invasion of Iraq, oil would be in the prewar, 25 to $30 dollar a Bbl. range, and that was Iraq pumping at about half capacity because of the sanctions.
By shutting down the supply(the 'war'), it is now over $ 80.00 a Bbl and climbing.
British Petroleum, and other global multi nationals have made the highest profits in the history of the world, because of Iraq.
They have maintained SCARCITY of oil, and thus maintained their incredible profits, and this continues.
Politicians in the U.S. and elsewhere, are now the pawns of Globalism and Religious belief systems.
While Sadr could possibly represent a way out, and a logical person within the context of the awful situation, he will not be used and more likely could be killed by us, because he could be a political solution, which is not considered 'friendly' by the powers that be.

We have no interest in Iraq, other than oil, and as a protection racket thug group, that protects our local ally in the region. Israel.

Since opinion in the form of religion, and special interests in the form of Globalism run the U.S. expect more of the same unless we change our way of doing business.

9/14/2007 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Skip. you're right.

9/14/2007 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Yellow Dog:

The trouble is, the Republicans are not lounging around. They are making trouble. Listen to Lindsay Graham in the Senate, yesterday, bad-talking the Maliki government down:

"What's the difference between a dysfunctional government and a failed state?

. . . . Would you agree with me. . . . that Iraq is a dysfunctional government at this moment in time?

. . . .You've called it dysfunctional. The point I'm trying to make is, to anybody who's watched this, this government is in a dysfunctional state. The point I'm trying to make, there's a difference between still trying and not trying.

. . . .a pretty major statement that the clock is running out on the Maliki government -- and we can have an effect on it by what we do here."

How prominent is this thinking? Well, that idiot David Broder is quoting it all approvingly.

Maliki is the key to the pro-Sadr political strategy I am pushing. He doesn't have much legitimacy because of his support from the Occupational forces. He's struggling to demonstrate more autonomy. But doing away with Maliki just implodes and flattens the current pittance of Iraqi sovereignty and makes this pottery barn even more dependent on endless American occupation. Which is what the GOP wants. One thing we should expect of the Bushlite Dems, is they not go along with GOP designs on a 'no-confidence' vote on Maliki. This only compounds the insanity, if that is possible.

9/14/2007 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

U.S. seeks pact with Shiite militia

U.S. diplomats and military officers have been in talks with members of the armed movement loyal to Muqtada Sadr, a sharp reversal of policy and a grudging recognition that the radical Shiite cleric holds a dominant position in much of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The secret dialogue has been going on since at least early 2006, but appeared to yield a tangible result only in the last week -- with relative calm in an area of west Baghdad that has been among the capital's most dangerous sections.

The discussions have been complicated by divisions within Sadr's movement as well as the cleric's public vow never to meet with Iraq's occupiers. Underlying the issue's sensitivity, Sadrists publicly deny any contact with the Americans or British -- fully aware the price of acknowledging such meetings would be banishment from the movement or worse.

The dialogue represents a drastic turnaround in the U.S. approach to Sadr and his militia, the Mahdi Army. The military hopes to negotiate the same kind of marriage of convenience it has reached in other parts of Iraq with former insurgent groups, many Saddam Hussein loyalists, and the Sunni tribes that supported them. Both efforts are examples of how U.S. officials have sought to end violence by cooperating with groups they once considered intractable enemies.

In 2004, U.S. officials branded Sadr an outlaw and demanded his arrest, sparking two major Shiite revolts in Baghdad and in the southern shrine city of Najaf that left more than a thousand dead. Last year, as the Bush administration developed its "surge" strategy, military planners said the campaign would also target Shiite militias involved in sectarian killings. U.S. commanders later accused Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army of carrying out deadly bomb attacks against U.S. forces and spearheading sectarian violence.

U.S. officials now feel they have no choice but to talk to the militia. Despite its internal rifts, the Sadr movement is widely seen as the most powerful force in Baghdad. The Mahdi Army's grip is absolute on most of the capital's Shiite neighborhoods, where it sells fuel and electricity and rents houses, and it has reached deep inside the army and police. U.S. soldiers have marveled at the movement's ability to generate new leaders to replace almost every fighter they lock up.

U.S. officials fear that failure to reach a political compromise with the Sadrists could have severe consequences once U.S. forces begin to pull back from their current high levels.

9/15/2007 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger J.C. said...

The White House is keen for a breakthrough ?
"There's a part of the Sadrist camp that is extremist and dedicated to killing us, and we need to kill them instead. But there are others who we think we might be able to work with," said an administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity."
End quote from the same article.

Charming, Just the type of ally we can really use.
Either side will turn on the other in a heart beat.
Is this a marriage of convenience, or a reposition for the next round of killing ?

9/16/2007 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Sapo said...

Not a good sign that Sadr's supporters have now abandoned their cabinet seats.

9/16/2007 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

This cabinet represents a "Potemkin" government, if not a Quisling adjunct for the USA-UK coalition. I have to say, M.D., that all real politics in Iraq is local.

9/16/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger DB Cooper said...

How widespread is the diplomatic recognition of the Maliki government?

9/16/2007 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

A test of the Potemkin Government of the Green Zone:

On Sunday, a US diplomatic convoy was involved in a shootout in Baghdad's Al-Yarmukh neighborhood which killed at least eight people and wounded 13 others.

The Iraqi interior ministry director of operations Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf has issued an order to cancel Blackwater's licence and the company is prohibited from operating anywhere in Iraq.

We'll see how long this lasts...

9/17/2007 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

I had a long speech planned, but, and you can all breathe a sigh of relief, I just have to agree with Skip!!

9/17/2007 11:01:00 AM  

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