Maliki, Sadr, and the Wages of Sin

By
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 9:46 am

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki is giving powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s forces three days to surrender in Basra, as clashes between Maliki’s security forces and Sadr’s Mahdi Army — in which the U.S. intervenes on Maliki’s side — escalate. But with the U.S. happy about the now-abrogated Sadrist ceasefire, why is the U.S. military getting involved? The Washington Post isn’t sure:

It was unclear why U.S. forces would take part in a broad armed challenge to Sadr and his thousands-strong militia on the eve of Petraeus’s assessment, which the Bush administration has said would greatly influence its decision on whether to draw down troop levels.

Here’s an answer. As long as Maliki is in the prime minister’s chair, and as long as we proclaim the Iraqi government he leads to be legitimate, Maliki effectively holds us hostage.  “I need to go after Sadr,” Maliki says. “The situation is unacceptable! In Basra, he threatens to take control of the ports, and in Baghdad, he’s throwing my men out of their checkpoints. Would you allow the Bloods or the Crips to take over half of Los Angeles?” And as soon as he says that, we’re trapped. It simply is not tenable for Petraeus to refuse a request for security assistance from the Prime Minister to deal with a radical militia.

Now, some Iraq-watcher friends of mine point out that this is absurd. “Sadr is, of course, a thug,” they say, “but he’s a nationalist. And he’s far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki’s Da’wa Party — both of whom we’re supporting! And most importantly, Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq. Petraeus can do business with him. This doesn’t make any sense!” And they’re right. It doesn’t. But as long as we sponsor the Iraqi political process — and a Sadrist doesn’t actually become premier himself –  this will keep happening.

Some might say it’s time to dump Maliki. I suspect that’s what’s behind this brief passage in the New York Times:

The Basra operation, which senior Iraqi officials had been signaling for weeks, is considered so important by the Iraqi government that Mr. Maliki traveled to the city to direct the fighting, several officials said.

That reads to me like some officials are preparing to throw Maliki under the bus. After all, if he’s personally responsible for the fighting, and it goes badly, then his Shiite rivals can maneuver a way to put forward a new premier. That is, of course, how Maliki himself came to power in the spring of 2006. And if the Iraqis themselves do it, we have little choice but to acquiesce.

But. The dangers of picking and choosing who the Iraqi premier should be outweigh any imperial temptations we may feel. We’ll be just as responsible for Prime Minister Next-Up’s mistakes as we are for Maliki’s. And the Iraqis will never trust any leader that foreigners pick for them. In what’s shaping up to be the Second Sadrist Intifada, you go to war with the prime minister you have, not the prime minister you might want.

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Categories & Tags: National Security|

Comments

16 Comments

sgtlebow
Comment posted March 28, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

Strangely_enough writes:

"That assumes that this was the goal, rather than an oil rich client state easily succumbing to our wishes providing a new set of bases replacing the ones removed from Saudi Arabia"

Let’s see, before the invasion of Iraq, oil was around $30 a barrel and we were already in the process of moving our forces out of the Saudi Kingdom and into Kuwait and the surrounding Emirates. It’s likely the cost of war will approach a trillion dollars, cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and many more thousands of Iraqi civilians. All for a few bases? That’s conceding the idea that whatever emerges from the ashes of our invasion will easily succumb to our wishes. Not bloody likely.

Emartin,

You may be correct about Iran seeing Sadr as a temporary fix. My point was that Iran funded, created and supported the Mahdi Army. It didn’t suddenly spring up from whole cloth. Whether is the Shi’ites of the Sadr variety or it’s the Shi’ites of the ISCI variety, Iran will be pulling the strings.


ericmartin
Comment posted March 27, 2008 @ 9:09 am

<i>From Iran


strangely_enough
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

"the goal of leaving a stable democracy friendly to our interests"
That assumes that this was the goal, rather than an oil rich client state easily succumbing to our wishes providing a new set of bases replacing the ones removed from Saudi Arabia.


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

"I don


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

Your points about the Badr Corp’s Iranian backing is no doubt true. Iran has funded, equiped and provided support for several Shi’ite organizations, including other militias. From Iran’s point of view, why keep all your eggs in the Sadr basket? It’s also true their support goes beyond providing guns and IED’s and includes investments in social services and infrastructures. Iran can provide, through various proxies, exactly the kind of grassroots services that we cannot. We can’t provide these services because the Iraqi insurgency has made it impossible for us to do so effectively. It’s pretty simple. Iran supports elements that make life difficult for our mission and then they sweep in a provide the services that we have been unable to provide effectively.

One more quibble…

"Iraq fought Iran to a standstill once, and could do so again. All we would have to do is let Iran know that Iraq would have our jets as an airforce. Watch them try to invade then. Not to mention that Iran itself is in little position for conquest considering its own considerable internal problems."

Iraq under Saddam was a lot different place than the Iraq of today. It’s far from clear they could mount the kind of force sufficient to repel any aggressor, let alone one who has close times to two thirds of the population. But Iran isn’t interested in making the same invasion/occupation mistakes we made. They will back their Shi’ite friends both financially and militarily. Over time, these groups will become dependent on Iranian support which Tehran will use to wield influence. Simple as that. Iran will have people in the military, the judicial branch, the central government and the oil industry. I’m sure it’s happening already.


ericmartin
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

<i>The comparision is apples and oranges. The Da


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 11:11 am

Mr. Akerman writes about Sadr:

"he’s far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki’s Da’wa Party…"

The comparision is apples and oranges. The Da’wa Party is political, Sadr’s Medhi Militia is not. Sadr’s militia did not spring up overnight and take control of several cities in 2004 without the assistance of Iran.

"Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq."

No, that would be Sistani. He still controls the Shi’ite clerical community. He’s also very apolitical and has shown no desire to see

a Shi’ite cleric installed as Prime Minister.

"the Iraqis will never trust any leader that foreigners pick for them"

That may be true but I doubt anyone is going to ask them when it’s all said and done. Iran has invested a great deal in Iraq and once we leave, whenever that is, they will seek a return on that investment. Iraqi’s, minus Americans with guns, will not be in a position to do much about it.

The endgame is pretty clear in Iraq. Iran will treat Iraq much the way Syria treats Lebanon. The only question is how long before we get there and how many more US soldiers are going to die in the process.


gopeagle
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 10:51 am

What about Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq?


gopeagle
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 5:51 am

What about Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq?


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 6:11 am

Mr. Akerman writes about Sadr:

"he's far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki's Da'wa Party…"

The comparision is apples and oranges. The Da'wa Party is political, Sadr's Medhi Militia is not. Sadr's militia did not spring up overnight and take control of several cities in 2004 without the assistance of Iran.

"Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq."

No, that would be Sistani. He still controls the Shi'ite clerical community. He's also very apolitical and has shown no desire to see

a Shi'ite cleric installed as Prime Minister.

"the Iraqis will never trust any leader that foreigners pick for them"

That may be true but I doubt anyone is going to ask them when it's all said and done. Iran has invested a great deal in Iraq and once we leave, whenever that is, they will seek a return on that investment. Iraqi's, minus Americans with guns, will not be in a position to do much about it.

The endgame is pretty clear in Iraq. Iran will treat Iraq much the way Syria treats Lebanon. The only question is how long before we get there and how many more US soldiers are going to die in the process.


ericmartin
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 7:05 am

The comparision is apples and oranges. The Da


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 9:50 am

Your points about the Badr Corp's Iranian backing is no doubt true. Iran has funded, equiped and provided support for several Shi'ite organizations, including other militias. From Iran's point of view, why keep all your eggs in the Sadr basket? It's also true their support goes beyond providing guns and IED's and includes investments in social services and infrastructures. Iran can provide, through various proxies, exactly the kind of grassroots services that we cannot. We can't provide these services because the Iraqi insurgency has made it impossible for us to do so effectively. It's pretty simple. Iran supports elements that make life difficult for our mission and then they sweep in a provide the services that we have been unable to provide effectively.

One more quibble…

"Iraq fought Iran to a standstill once, and could do so again. All we would have to do is let Iran know that Iraq would have our jets as an airforce. Watch them try to invade then. Not to mention that Iran itself is in little position for conquest considering its own considerable internal problems."

Iraq under Saddam was a lot different place than the Iraq of today. It's far from clear they could mount the kind of force sufficient to repel any aggressor, let alone one who has close times to two thirds of the population. But Iran isn't interested in making the same invasion/occupation mistakes we made. They will back their Shi'ite friends both financially and militarily. Over time, these groups will become dependent on Iranian support which Tehran will use to wield influence. Simple as that. Iran will have people in the military, the judicial branch, the central government and the oil industry. I'm sure it's happening already.


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 10:06 am

"I don


strangely_enough
Comment posted March 26, 2008 @ 11:40 am

"the goal of leaving a stable democracy friendly to our interests"
That assumes that this was the goal, rather than an oil rich client state easily succumbing to our wishes providing a new set of bases replacing the ones removed from Saudi Arabia.


ericmartin
Comment posted March 27, 2008 @ 4:09 am

From Iran


sgtlebow
Comment posted March 28, 2008 @ 10:29 am

Strangely_enough writes:

"That assumes that this was the goal, rather than an oil rich client state easily succumbing to our wishes providing a new set of bases replacing the ones removed from Saudi Arabia"

Let's see, before the invasion of Iraq, oil was around $30 a barrel and we were already in the process of moving our forces out of the Saudi Kingdom and into Kuwait and the surrounding Emirates. It's likely the cost of war will approach a trillion dollars, cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and many more thousands of Iraqi civilians. All for a few bases? That's conceding the idea that whatever emerges from the ashes of our invasion will easily succumb to our wishes. Not bloody likely.

Emartin,

You may be correct about Iran seeing Sadr as a temporary fix. My point was that Iran funded, created and supported the Mahdi Army. It didn't suddenly spring up from whole cloth. Whether is the Shi'ites of the Sadr variety or it's the Shi'ites of the ISCI variety, Iran will be pulling the strings.


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