politics, history and the war on terror
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
The Phantom Shiite Rebellion 

John Burns of the New York Times reports on the ongoing problems with the criminal Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. While the picture painted by the general media is one of an open Shiite rebellion, al-Sadr has effectively been isolated by the Shiite leadership, which recently met to discuss the issue of Sadr.

Representatives of Iraq's most influential Shiite leaders met here on Tuesday and demanded that Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric, withdraw militia units from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, stop turning the mosques there into weapons arsenals and return power to Iraqi police and civil defense units that operate under American control.

It appears the Shiite leaders have been hedging their bets, which is understandable after living thirty years under the boot of Saddam. The mention of the Thulfiqar Army is particularly interesting. Wretchard of Belmont Club reported this on Sunday, and it appears a genuine resistance to the Mahdi Army has been established.

Several Shiite leaders acknowledged that they had delayed issuing their statement until there were clear signs that public opinion among Shiites had moved strongly against Mr. Sadr. Reports in the past two weeks have spoken of a shadowy death squad calling itself the Thulfiqar Army shooting dead at least seven of Mr. Sadr's militiamen in Najaf, and several thousand people attended an anti-Sadr protest meeting outside the Imam Ali shrine in the city on Friday, according to several of the meeting's participants.

Even in Najaf, Sadr is unpopular.

Mr. Mahdi, from the Sciri group, which is close to Ayatollah Sistani, was blunt about Mr. Sadr's decline in popularity. "He's 100 percent isolated across most of the southern provinces; he's even isolated in Najaf," he said. "The people there regard him as having taken them hostage." He said Mr. Sadr had also been criticized by his most powerful religious backer, Grand Ayatollah Kazem Hossein Haeri, based in the Iranian city of Qum, who had urged Mr. Sadr to pull his militiamen out of Najaf and Karbala and to stop storing weapons in mosques.

And not all Shiites oppose American military force to remove Sadr from Najaf. This counters the meme that America assistance is unwelcome by all Shiites in the holy city.

[T]he strongest murmurings of the meeting came when Taqlif al-Faroun, a tribal leader from Najaf, said Shiites should give the American forces a green light to go after Mr. Sadr in the holy cities. "Najaf is not Mecca," he said. "The Americans don't want to go into the shrines. They want to get rid of criminals and thieves. So what if they enter the city?" Across the roof, dozens of men responded approvingly. "Yes, yes!", they said.

The fact that Iraqis are meeting to discuss important problems, work through their own solutions, and even take action on their own (via the Thulfiqar Army) is encouraging. Iraq is a nation used to betrayal and oppression. It will take time for Iraqis to build the trust with both America and among their own differing political and ethnic groups. Until the Iraqis find their voice, take ownership of their own problems and learn how to govern themselves, there will be problems along the road to democracy. The meeting of Shiite leadership to find a solution to a local problem, as well as attempts to integrate Iraqi forces in Fallujah, are steps in the right direction. While the solutions may not be perfect, they demonstrate a willingness of the Iraqis to help themselves.

Posted by bill roggio @ 1:21 PM