September 3, 2004
By Mike Whitney
"I left my kids here and went to fight in Najaf. We are going to fight them until we throw them out of Iraq. Our country is our country." Itihad Jamil, 47 year old Iraqi woman, who left Baghdad to join the fight in Najaf.
A poll conducted by the International Republican Party shows that Muqtada al Sadr's popularity among Iraqis was nearly 60% prior to the standoff in Najaf.
These are numbers that would have Bush advisor Karl Rove drooling with envy.
Now, that the confrontation is over, we must assume that al Sadr's popularity has skyrocketed. He stood up to the American superpower and stubbornly refused to give in while 500 lb bombs were reducing the city to rubble.
His reputation among Iraqis is at its zenith.
Now, he is demonstrating that he is an astute politician as well as an intractable adversary.
By ordering a ceasefire, al Sadr has elevated himself to a level of leadership that puts him squarely at the center of Iraqi politics.
If the ceasefire holds, he will be immediately recognized as the one man in Iraq who can put an end to the violence with a wave of his hand.
By process of exclusion, he will become the de facto leader of central Iraq.
Not bad for a day's work.
Undoubtedly, the Defense Dept and the newly "appointed" Allawi government will need to spend a great deal of time "mulling over" this new development
On the one hand, it presents a real opportunity to stabilize the situation on the ground until George Bush gets reelected.
On the other hand, however, it is directly at odds with Rumsfeld's fondness for resolving every issue through the use of force.
We can assume that both Rumsfeld and ally, Israel are terrified of the prospect that a "fundamentalist cleric" will be part of a "power sharing" agreement in Iraq. This is their worst nightmare, and one that they will certainly fight "tooth and nail" to avoid.
Never the less, election time is nigh and it may be wise to put such quibbling aside until Bush is, once again , safely ensconced in the Oval Office.
In the long run, things look considerably more dismal for al Sadr.
Israel will never put up with an Iraq that is governed by Mullahs, and neither will Rumsfeld.
Regardless of how many Iraqis or American servicemen are killed; Sadr's vision won't be allowed to materialize.
A more likely scenario is that al Sadr will be "intentionally" bogged down in negotiations, and then, following elections in the US, Rumsfeld will try to have him assassinated.
"Beheading the leadership" is a strategy we have seen carried out with ruthless precision in the West Bank and Gaza and, undoubtedly, it will be applied here.
Al Sadr's vanity, as well as his success in Najaf, may have him believing that the Bush Administration wants to negotiate in "good faith".
Nothing could be further from the truth.
He would be well advised to consider the history and make up of the current Administration. They will never concede anything to him.
The struggle for the liberation of Iraq will not be resolved by political negotiations; anyone who believes that has simply not been paying attention to the way in which the administration invariably resolves disputes.
For all practical purposes, Bush should just "board-up" the State Dept and build more missiles; that appears to be the "one size fits all" remedy for every disagreement.
Al Sadr's best opportunity for success is to focus on the development of a widespread popular (resistance) movement; a "parallel government", that is prepared to assume power when America is inevitably forced to leave Iraq, a day that is hastened by the brutish intransigence and the conspicuous depravity of the American leadership.
Just hours after finishing the above commentary, talks of disarming the resistance fighters in Sadr City collapsed. Apparently, Rumsfeld drew similar conclusions to mine about the danger of al Sadr's increasing popularity and decided to reject the truce that PM Allawi had already accepted.
In a New York Times report by Dexter Filkins and Eric Eckholm they say:
"Leaders of the Mahdi Army, the rebel force led by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and two well-placed Iraqi sources said an agreement had been reached late Monday that called for the disarming of the rebel force and a halt in American military operations in Sadr City.
Mahdi Army commanders and other Iraqi sources said Tuesday that Dr. Allawi backed out of the agreement on Tuesday morning."
Certainly, Allawi was simply following the directives of his Pentagon bosses who have decided to resume the task of crushing al Sadr.
The delay was merely intended to buy precious time for the Republican Convention to take place without the "worrisome" spectacle of American troops pounding Iraq's holy shrines on national TV.
Now, Rumsfeld is free to recommence his "pet project" of dismantling the resistance and subjugating the Iraqi population.
As yet, the US has not honored its basic agreement with al Sadr to withdraw its army from Najaf.
It's unlikely that the high command feels any inclination to keep its commitments.
After all, the requirements of the truce will be "papered over" by an accommodating media, so why bother?
As the New York Times admits:
"An Iraqi source said Dr. Allawi had decided to take a harsher approach toward Mr. Sadr and the Mahdi Army, possibly including the use of military force. The source said Dr. Allawi appeared to be motivated by disappointment with the agreement in Najaf, which ended the bloodshed there but left the Mahdi Army intact and made Mr. Sadr stronger than ever, in the eyes of many Iraqis."
In other words, the truce was just a cunning device to diminish the violence while the "coronation ceremonies" went forward. Now, it's back to the grueling task of running an empire.
As for American stooge, Allawi, things are looking equally bleak. His government's facade of legitimacy has been deeply weakened by the fiasco in Najaf. The NY Times suggests that he may be looking to "kill or capture" al Sadr "to strike a death blow to his increasingly popular movement".
None of this comes as any great surprise. Allawi's connection to terrorism in the mid 1990's is what qualified him for the job of overseeing America's new colony in the first place. Moreover, his personal history as gangster and racketeer makes him a perfect fit with his Washington overlords.
As Filkins and Eckholm say (quoting a senior leader in an Iraqi party):
"Allawi is a Baathist at heart, and he inherited all of his thoughts and behavior from them. He's like Saddam; he has a smile on his face, but a gun in his hand to shoot you with; and he will use it."
Allawi has not yet proven he is the "Iron-fisted" ruler the Bush Administration is looking for, but his resume certainly seems to be in order.