April 5, 2008


In backing the Basra assault, the US has only helped Sadr: The tacit promotion of Shia civil war has left the militias stronger and fuelled scepticism about the much-hyped surge (Jonathan Steele, 4/04/08, The Guardian)

Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr, the target of the assault, comes out of the crisis strengthened. His militiamen gave no ground and, by declaring a ceasefire that has successfully held since Sunday, Sadr has demonstrated his authority and the discipline of his men. Their tactics are often brutal and some of his commanders little more than thugs or warlords, but they obey their political boss.

Big questions remain over the backroom negotiations that ended the fighting. In his ceasefire announcement Sadr called for an end to the Maliki government's campaign of arresting local Sadr representatives in Baghdad and other cities. This has been going on for months without a Sadr response. Sadr also asked for the release of those being held, an estimated two thousand. What is not clear is whether the government conceded these points during pre-ceasefire talks. If so, then Sadr's appeal was a generous cover to allow the government not to look as though it had already capitulated. Much will depend on whether Maliki fulfils the promises he made. Otherwise fighting may resume, this time with Sadr taking the initiative.

The US role is the other main unknown. General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and the Bush administration's civilian officials supported the arrests of Sadr's people. They have long worked with Maliki and Sadr's main political rivals, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), to weaken the movement. Although the fighting in Basra was led by the Iraqi national army, many of its units are made up of troops of Isci's fighting wing, the Badr organisation.

President Bush described last week's fighting as a "positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law". In reality, it amounted to US support for the promotion of a Shia civil war. There are depressing similarities with US policy in Palestine, where the US is arming and financing Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement against Hamas instead of working for Palestinian unity.

The similarity flows from the same false faith that there is a desirable secular alternative to the popular Islamic party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2008 6:22 AM
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