In the Arena

Today in Iraq

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The news that Muqtada al-Sadr is “ordering” his Mahdi Army to stand down for six months–apparently half-a-year is the time unit of choice on both sides of the Iraq War–may be a very positive sign or a sign of weakness or nothing much at all.

Positive Sign: For months, the U.S. has been trying, through intermediaries, to get Sadr to repudiate the Mahdi Army “Special Groups”, the extremist cells, possibly trained in Iran, that have been attacking U.S. military targets (including the Green Zone). This statement by Ahmed al-Shaibani, of Sadr’s Najaf office, seems pretty close to a repudiation to me:

“This decision will have great advantage,” Mr. Shaibani said. “It will distinguish and isolate those who claim to be working for JAM and who are actually not part of it.” He was using the acronym for the Mahdi Army’s Arabic name, Jaish al-Mahdi.
“JAM is a huge and active body in Iraq, but there are some intruders who want to create rifts. We don’t have masked men working with us.”

Sign of Weakness: U.S. intelligence has persistently claimed that part of the problem in dealing with the Sadrist movement is that it is fractured and Muqtada may not be completely in control. The Times reports that the six months may be used to purge “rogue” elements from JAM and this statement from Sadr himself seems to confirm that:

A statement signed by Mr. Sadr said the six-month suspension of the militia’s activities was intended to “rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image.”

I’m wondering whether there has been covert coordination between the Sadrists and the U.S. military in recent U.S. attacks on alleged “Special Groups” cells in Sadr City and elsewhere. Not impossible, but the last thing Sadr would acknowledge, given that much of his street cred stems from his never-deal-with-infidels posture.

Nothing Much At All: Both sides in the Karbala fighting have sought to distance themselves from the attacks, which left dozens of innocent pilgrims killed and wounded. This may merely the equivalent of Sadr saying, “Who me?”

In any case, this seems a sure sign that the next war in Iraq–between the Sadr and Hakim families for control of the Shi’ite south–is heating up. Or maybe not.

In other Iraq news:

No Surprises Here: The Government Accounting Office thinks things aren’t going so well.

A Good Reason to Leave?Congressman Rob Porter says that if we leave, gas may go to $9 per gallon–which would force us toward energy independence.