Monday, January 28, 2008
One of These Days and It Won't Be Long
Influential members of Muqtada al-Sadr's movement have urged the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric not to extend a cease-fire when it expires next month, officials said Monday, a move that could jeopardize recent security gains. [...]
...U.S. and Iraqi forces insisted they would continue to hunt down so-called rogue fighters who ignored the order. Al-Sadr's followers claim this is a pretext to crack down on their movement.
The maverick cleric has threatened not to renew the cease-fire unless the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki purges "criminal gangs" operating within security forces he claims are targeting his followers.
That was a reference to rival Shiite militiamen from the Badr Brigade who have infiltrated security forces participating in the ongoing crackdown against breakaway militia cells the U.S. has said were linked to Iran.
The political commission of al-Sadr's movement and some lawmakers and senior officials said they were urging him to follow through with his threat, pointing to recent raids against the movement in the southern Shiite cities of Diwaniyah, Basra and Karbala.
"We presented a historic opportunity when we froze the (Mahdi) army," Nasser al-Rubaie, leader of the Sadrists in parliament, told reporters Monday. "But the step was negatively capitalized on."
There are a few threads to this story worth paying attention to. First and foremost, there is a hardline contingent in the Sadrist current that has been opposed to the cease-fire from the start and, even predating that development, have been pushing for a more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the United States, "Baathists" and Shiite rivals. Moqtada, much to the dismay of these hardliners, has decided to try to ride out The Surge, shore up his political position, purge disloyal and heterodox elements from the ranks of his movement and keep his powder dry for the next stage of the game (likely the next round of elections, with the goal of becoming the preeminent Shiite political force in Iraq).
The tension is everpresent and, due to recent events, mounting. The problem for Sadr is that, as usual, his movement is being pinched by his chief Shiite rivals, ISCI and their Badr Corp. militia which has been largely incorporated into the "official" Iraqi security forces. Thus, whereas Sadr was willing to countenance some level of US military/ISCI operations targeting certain fringe Mahdi Army characters and other rogue types, ISCI is overreaching and is attempting to cripple the Sadrist current ahead of upcoming elections - and more generally speaking.
The restive factions within the Sadrist current are gaining support and their cause legitimacy due to ISCI's overbroad crackdown. Increasingly, they are forcing Moqtada's hand. Most likely, Sadr will try to let these publically aired concerns serve as a warning to ISCI and the US to pull back on the throttle, or else. He has done this in the past on numerous occasions to some level of success - albeit temporary. If this most recent gambit does not get ISCI and the US to back off, however, Sadr might have no choice but to call off the cease fire. Either that, or he risks creating a major schism in the Sadrist current with substantial portions opting out of the cease fire for lack of patience. In either instance, the upshot would be an increase in the level of anti-US, intra-Shiite and sectarian violence.
On the other side of the sectarian divide, certain Sunni groups are floating their own admonitions as the flaws underlying the Awakenings/CLC strategy are starting to come into focus.
A crucial Iraqi ally of the United States in its recent successes in the country is threatening to withdraw his support and allow al-Qa'ida to return if his fighters are not incorporated into the Iraqi army and police.
"If there is no change in three months there will be war again," said Abu Marouf, the commander of 13,000 fighters who formerly fought the Americans. He and his men switched sides last year to battle al-Qa'ida and defeated it in its main stronghold in and around Fallujah.
"If the Americans think they can use us to crush al-Qa'ida and then push us to one side, they are mistaken," Abu Marouf told The Independent in an interview in a scantily furnished villa beside an abandoned cemetery near the village of Khandari outside Fallujah...
The Iraqi government fears ceding power to the Awakening movement which it sees as an American-funded Sunni militia, whose leaders are often former military or security officers from Saddam Hussein's regime and are unlikely to show long-term loyalty to the Shia and Kurdish-dominated administration. [...]
This creates a serious problem for the Iraqi government and for the Americans themselves. Though Abu Marouf wants to join the government security forces, he volunteers that he considers the present Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki "the worst government in the world – his army has got 13 divisions, most of which are recruited from Shia militias controlled by Iran."
It is clear that Abu Marouf sees the Shia religious party takeover of government as something to be resisted.
Three months, huh? Not even a full Friedman Unit. And here I thought the Washington clock was faster than the Baghdad clock. Guess there's a Fallujah clock and a Basra clock as well. Good luck getting those synchronized though.