Across the Bay

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Missing the Point?

Michael Young questioned whether the US micromanagement of affairs in Iraq is counterproductive. Young focused mainly on the sustained military effort against Sadr.

You can find my response to his post in the Comments (under Tony). For the sake of convenience, I will paste my comments here:

He's [Young] also right about the comments made by that military official about not negotiating with murderers. The whole point is to get the IRAQIS to handle Sadr. The question is how?

If you believe Sadr's people and some other Shiite figures, they say the US is responsible for the breakdown of a negotiated solution. I don't buy it. It is clear from the WaPo report that Young mentions and from this story in the NYT that the Americans are very much still seeking a negotiated settlement where it would appear that the IRAQIS themselves marginalized Sadr. Take this quote from the NYT report:

"American officials say they have no intention of sending soldiers into the heart of Najaf, which is centered around the Shrine of Ali, dedicated to the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. They say they fear such an attack could provoke a backlash from Shiite Muslims around the world, and would prefer that senior clerics persuade Mr. Sadr to surrender."

Young neglected to mention this quote from the WaPo report:

""If there is progress to be made, we are open-minded, given that those two conditions are met -- Moqtada al-Sadr faces justice and his illegal militia disbanded and disarmed," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "But in the interim, we will continue to use our own methods for getting Moqtada's militia off the streets.""

I've discussed this a bit on my blog, and that's why I don't buy that the US is blocking a negotiated settlement. I think that Sadr is trying to get around facing charges for the murder of Kho'i. he has said in the past that he would disband his militia if the higher clerical authorities request it. They did, he hasn't. So it's not as pig-headed as Young seems to imply. At least I don't think so.

So is this indeed a combination of sticks and politics like one reader remarked here? It's possible. I.e., the US will maintain the relentless pressure squeezing Sadr into a corner where he would have no choice but to take whatever deal the tribal chiefs and clerical authorities offer him. Young made a reference to the threats of the tribes. But there are also other Shiite militias (SCIRI's and the Daawa party's) who have been rumored to have attacked Sadrists themselves. So it's not simply "after" he disappeared from Karbala. It's been going on for a while.

I think there might be yet another reason why the US is maintaining military pressure on Sadr. I think they cannot afford another re-run of Fallujah. As Young pointed out, that deal was a disaster (one that pissed off the Kurds and Shiites by the way). They can't let Muqtada get that type of victory and maintain a grip on those cities through intimidation of other Shiites (something he had been doing). Young mentioned the Islamic laws and attacks on people with liquor. Well, Sadr has been doing that in his areas since the liberation! Many of the victims have been christians (since they can deal with liquor). Women also were being threatened (with beatings and acid) if they wandered around without their veils. These things make me skeptical about letting the Iraqis vote Sadr out (without the American pressure). While I do believe that he would be ousted from many areas (in fact, in several local elections in Iraq, Islamists lost), he has enough popularity to retain some parts that he would then continue to intimidate. I also believe that he would have sought to intimidate his way into other areas as well.

Bottom line, I see Young's point, and I agree to a certain degree. Empowering the Iraqis is the key here on out. Let them voice their opinions, let them take charge. Yet in some instances, a measured use of force is necessary to get a message accross and put thugs like Sadr in his place. Yet ultimately, it is the Iraqis that will have to do this kind of thing on their own, through the power of elections and politics. On that, Young is right.