February 21, 2007


Joint force weighs move on Sadr City: The vast Baghdad slum harbors a key militia but a sweep could backfire (Borzou Daragahi, February 21, 2007, LA Times)

Political pressure has mounted to crack down on the Baghdad neighborhood that harbors the militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. Sunni Arabs, who make up the backbone of the insurgency, have long accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of allowing Sadr City to remain a haven for the militia to keep the support of Sadr's followers.

"We think that much of the ... violence that comes as a result of operations emanating from Sadr City will be remarkably diminished if they crack down," said Ammar Wajuih, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's main Sunni political organization.

U.S. and Iraqi military commanders setting out the next steps of the Baghdad security plan are concerned about stirring up a hornet's nest in a neighborhood of more than 2 million Shiites.

They worry that by moving too aggressively they could sabotage one of the few success stories in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The teeming streets of Sadr City are thriving while the rest of the violence-racked capital wilts. The district pulses with commerce and youth, even as huge stretches of Baghdad fade into ghost towns.

Sadr City may shelter troublemakers, but they're lying low for the most part now. Moreover, Sadr's deputies have endorsed the security crackdown.

Even amid the bloodshed across Baghdad, customers fill Sadr City's shops. Workers repair its streets and sewage lines. Children play soccer on its dusty fields and walk to school along newly prettified squares, verdant emblems of progress in a quarter long one of Iraq's most deprived.

"Sadr City has always been safe, with the exception of the suicide and roadside bomb attacks," said Talib Saad, a barber along the district's main thoroughfare.

U.S. troops took heavy casualties when they tried to storm Sadr City in the spring and summer of 2004. For the Americans, the grueling street fights with black-clad teens holding AK-47s while running down the streets represented a nadir few want to relive.

Rather than crush the Al Mahdi, the U.S. wound up bolstering Sadr's street credibility and undermining the popularity of then-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was pro-American.

Any new move into Sadr City remains controversial among military experts. Army Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff, and military analyst Frederick Kagan, who were among the most influential advocates of the current Bush administration plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500, have warned that a push into Sadr City would unnecessarily unite the country's now-splintered Shiite leadership.

"Attempting to clear Sadr City would almost certainly force the [Al Mahdi militia] into [a direct] confrontation with American troops," they wrote in a January report for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

"It would also do enormous damage to [Maliki's] political base and would probably lead to the collapse of the Iraqi government."

If we attack our allies then we will lose the war, though those allies will still win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2007 8:54 AM

Sadr and his army are not allies of the US.

Leaving Sadr city alone because it would stir things up sounds very similar to the realists who left dictators in power in the Middle East because they brought stability.

Posted by: AWW at February 21, 2007 9:08 AM

No, the opposite. They're our allies because they're destabilizing those rotten old regimes. Fear of the Shi'a is just terror of democracy. To imagine you can reinstall sufficient oppression to control them is just unrealistic.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 9:42 AM

"Sadr City has always been safe, with the exception of the suicide and roadside bomb attacks," said Talib Saad

Sounds like Marion Berry. "other than the murder rate, we have a low crime rate"

Posted by: h-man at February 21, 2007 9:59 AM

Jeez, I'm beginning to see why oj doesn't like Guiliani -- he wishes that he'd just left the mafia in charge in all the Italian neighborhoods in the NY. Hey, if that's who the Italians want running the show where they live, why not?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 21, 2007 11:30 AM

The mafia was never safer than with Rudy as a federal attorney.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 12:14 PM

H-man beat me to it, I had been laughing too hard to move my fingers.

I strongly agree with oj, perhaps from another motive. The Shia are the best bet for bringing about the Shinto-style reformation of the entire spiritual jailhouse. Our predecessors in empire, the British, set up Irag as divided and unstable. As the world shrinks with every advance in communications, let us now advance the Shia so as to maximize the contradictions within the jailhouse as a whole.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2007 12:25 PM

In Middle Village, an "Italian" neighborhood on the border of Queens & Brooklyn near where I grew up, there are flower boxes in the windows and people sitting on the stoops enjoying the sunshine. The streets are safe with small shops flourishing and bakeries where the bread "is to die for."

The surrounding streets -- not so much.

The mayor has no influence in these neighborhoods of which there are a number in all the boroughs.

Posted by: erp at February 21, 2007 1:06 PM

Anybody rooting for the Shia instead of something else care to elaborate why the Al Mahdi militia and Sadr blow up Americans, their supposed allies?

Posted by: Perry at February 21, 2007 1:49 PM

DC didn't have a problem with whites sneaking in and blowing stuff up. It was its own citizens who were the problem. The opposite of Sadr City.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 2:36 PM


They don't. They did fight back when we invaded their turf.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 2:41 PM


No, the problem is that the British set it up as unified and therefore unstable. Division will produce stability.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 2:44 PM

That would be nice, inasmuch as such a turn of events would be a step toward reformation. My apprehension is that the entire system is too corrupt to achieve anything so rational.

Were this not so, they would be policing themselves out of the chaos. By this I mean that the good ones would by narcing out the bad ones, which is not happening to any great extent.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2007 3:07 PM

Tricky business. It's important to confiscate the Sadrites' heavy weapons. It's also important that they be allowed to keep their AK's and sidearms. Don't know what our rules of engagement actually are in those regards.

Posted by: ghostcat at February 21, 2007 4:35 PM

Reform is almost impossible if the next speaker can sway the crowd just by being louder and crazier. In the Christian realm, snake-handlers, street-corner shouters, and violent militants have a tiny slice of their own and no influence over the 'church' as a whole. Not so with Islam.

When moderate imams can be tossed out of their mosques (by radical visitors, often from overseas) here in the US, imagine how tenuous their positions are in Muslim nations.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 21, 2007 4:38 PM

As tenuous as Northeastern Republicans?

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 5:59 PM

It's hard to throw out the crazies when there's a scriptural basis for the craziness. A reform will come and then the crazies will return as they have always done in the past.

Posted by: at February 21, 2007 6:01 PM

The good ones -- the Sadrists -- are killing the bad ones -- the Ba'athists.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 6:02 PM

It's a good crazies vs bad crazies thing? I always think of Menachim Begin's line when asked for his opinion and concerns regarding the Iran/Iraq war when he replied, "I wish them both success".

Posted by: at February 21, 2007 6:26 PM

No, just good vs. bad. The Shi'a are no different than the Jews.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 9:10 PM