Saddam to Hang, another raid in Sadr City; Iraq at a critical juncture
An Iraqi court has sentenced Saddam Hussein to hang for his ordering the massacring of Shiites during his reign as president. The Middle East Times provides an account of the moment Saddam was sentenced: "Judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman ordered bailiffs at the Iraqi High Tribunal to force Saddam to stand before the court as, visibly trembling, the former strongman attempted to shout down the verdict. 'Make him stand,' barked Rahman, as Saddam begged the guards: 'Don't bend my arms. Don't bend my arms.'" The verdict was long awaited, well over three years since the fall of his murderous regime. Some Sunnis oppose the verdict, but there has yet to be an increase in violence due to the results.
On Saturday, Iraqi special forces, backed by U.S. advisers, conducted a raid inside Sadr City, the Baghdad bastion of Iranian proxy Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Three members of a "murder, kidnapping cell" were detained during the raid, and the Mahdi Army fired on Iraqi forces with small arms and RPGs as they departed.
This is the first operation inside Sadr City after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered the lifting of the week-long cordon around Sadr City last Tuesday. On that same day, an operation inside Sadr City netted three terror cell suspects. The order to lift the cordon was hotly opposed by the U.S. military, and Iraqi's vice president also strongly disagreed with the decision. Serious questions have been raised about Maliki's commitment to quell the violence in Baghdad and suppress the power of Sadr's Shiite death squads.
As the cordon was lifted, a strange set of political statements were made. Sadr claimed he actually approved of raids inside Sadr City. An official in Maliki's government indicated a reshuffle of the Cabinet was in order, and the ministers of Defense and Interior would be replaced. Maliki upbraided his security ministers for the poor security situation in Baghdad, and security was boosted in anticipation of the Saddam verdict. Announcements were also made that the Iraqi Army would expand by three more divisions, replace its losses and overman its current formations. The increase in forces nearly mirrors the number of U.S. troops in country.
Certainly Iraq is at a critical juncture in its development as a new and independent state. Sunni insurgents are unwilling to consider reconciliation as long as it appears Sadr's death squads will not be addressed by the central government. Maliki is hedging his bets as long as it appear the U.S. may withdraw forces. The much anticipated Baker report on the recommendations for the course on Iraq will be released in the near future. The impression of the report is the U.S. will leave the country to the predations of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads. Iran and Sadr will push the limits as long as the U.S. appears weak and at the mercy of a fickle electorate. Al-Qaeda and Sadr watch the polls and read the Western media, and ratchet up the violence as election season nears. We have captured al Qaeda documents that prove this.
The Iraqi people and the Coalition have been at these critical crossroads in the past, and have managed to push forward, often in an imperfect manner. In 2003, The Coalition failed to recognize the nature of the insurgency and al Qaeda's role in it. In the spring of 2004, Fallujah I and the Sadr uprising in Najaf and the Shia south precipitated a political crisis in the Iraqi Governing Council. During the summer and fall of 2004, Fallujah II and Sadr again made the situation appear hopeless. After the election in December of 2005, it took five months for the government to form. In February of 2006, the destruction of the Golden Dome of the al-Askaria mosque in Samarra precipitated fears of a full blown civil war and the current wave of sectarian violence.
But none of these events have caused the collapse of the political process or the security forces. This can still happen, particularly if the United States withdraws support and troops at this crucial juncture.