Sadrist bloc buckles, agrees to let Iraqi Army in Sadr City


After over six weeks of heavy fighting in and around the Mahdi Army stronghold Sadr City, where Mahdi Army forces took lopsided casualties in the fighting, the government and the Sadrist political bloc have signed an agreement to end the fighting. The agreement will allow for the Iraqi military to operate freely inside Sadr City while the Mahdi Army must halt its fighting.

The negotiations, which took place over the course of the last several days, culminated in the signing of a 14-point agreement. Both Iraqi government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh and Sadrist spokesman Sheikh Salih al Ubaydi confirmed an agreement was reached.

The full details of the agreement are not public. According to several press reports, the Mahdi Army has made major concessions to the Iraqi government, including allowing the Army to enter Sadr City. There is no agreement for the Mahdi Army to fully disarm, as Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has insisted since the conflict began on March 25.

The major points of the agreement, based on press reports, are as follows:

• The Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army would observe a four-day cease-fire.
• At the end of the cease-fire, Iraqi forces would be allowed to enter Sadr City and conduct arrests if warrants have been issued, or if the Mahdi Army is in possession of medium or heavy weapons (rocket-propelled grenades, rockets, mortars).
• The Mahdi Army and the Sadrist bloc must recognize the Iraqi government has control over the security situation and has the authority to move security forces to impose the law.
• The Mahdi Army would end all attacks, including mortar and rockets strikes against the International Zone.
• The Mahdi Army must clear Sadr City of roadside bombs.
• The Mahdi Army must close all "illegal courthouses."
• The Iraqi government would reopen the entrances to Sadr City.
• The Iraqi government would provide humanitarian aid to the residents of Sadr City.

The Sadrist said the US military would not be allowed to operate inside Sadr City; yet there is no confirmation of this from the Iraqi government or the US military. "The Iraqi forces, not the American forces, can come into Sadr City and search for weapons," Baha al Araji, a Sadrist legislator said. "We don't have big weapons, and we want this to stop."

The Iraqi government insists that internal pressure forced the Sadrist movement to the negotiating table. "It is not the government who pressured the Sadrists into entering this agreement," said Ali al Adeeb, a leading member of the Dawa party. "It is the pressure from the people inside Sadr City and from their own people that will make them act more responsibly."

There is no word on the status of the concrete barrier that is being built that will partition the southern third of Sadr City from the northern neighborhood. In an inquiry to Multinational Division Baghdad, the US command that is working with the Iraqi military to build the barrier in Sadr City, does not expect the construction will stop as the Mahdi Army has not obeyed Sadr's past calls to cease the fighting.

"Seeing as how the Special Groups never listened to [Sadr] to begin with, I don't see how things will change," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, told The Long War Journal.

Multinational Division Baghdad is continuing with the building of the Sadr City barrier. "We're not stopping," Stover said. "The barrier emplacement is ongoing and about 80 percent complete."

The Mahdi Army has taken heavy casualties in Sadr City and the surrounding neighborhoods since the fighting began on March 25. A total of 562 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Multinational Division Baghdad recently began to announce that US Special Operations Forces are openly operating on the ground in support of the building of the barrier. The Iraqi government has also pressured the Mahdi Army in Basrah, where 70 percent of the city is now reported as cleared, and the wider South.

Background on the recent fighting in with the Mahdi Army

Mahdi Army forces openly took up arms against the government after the Iraqi government started the assault on Basrah on March 25 to clear the city of the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed Shia militias. Sadr called for his forces to leave the streets on March 30 just as Iraqi Army and police reinforcements began to arrive in Basrah. Sadr later admitted he ordered his followers within the Army and police to abandon their posts and join the fighting against the government.

In Baghdad alone, US and Iraqi forces killed 173 Mahdi Army fighters during the six days of fighting from March 25 up until Sadr declared a cease-fire. The fighting has not abated in Sadr City and other Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhoods in northern and eastern Baghdad. A total of 520 Mahdi Army fighters have been confirmed killed in and around Sadr City since March 25.

Sadr and his political movement have become increasingly isolated since the fighting began in Basrah, Baghdad, and the South. The Iraqi government, with the support of the political parties, said the Sadrist political movement would not be able to participate in upcoming provincial elections if it failed to disband the Mahdi Army. On April 13, the cabinet approved legislation that prevents political parties with militias from contesting provincial elections this year. The bill is now in parliament for approval. Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the top Shiite cleric in Iraq, said the Mahdi Army was not above the law and should be disarmed. Sadr has refused to disband the Mahdi Army.

On April 20, Sadr threatened to conduct a third uprising, but later backed down from his threat, claiming it was directed only at US forces. The Maliki government has stood firm and said operations would continue until the Mahdi Army and other militias disarm and disband. On May 1, the Iraqi government sent a delegation to confront Iran on its involvement with the insurgency, but Sadr, who is currently in Iran, refused to meet with the Iraqi government representatives.



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READER COMMENTS: "Sadrist bloc buckles, agrees to let Iraqi Army in Sadr City"

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 11:57 AM ET:

Great reporting!

VOI is reporting a 14 point agreement. Wonder what all the 14 points are?


OT: has the Mosul battle begun?

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 12:18 PM ET:

CBS is reporting that the cease fire starts Sunday:

Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said the cease-fire will go into effect Sunday.

Posted by C. Jordan at May 10, 2008 12:19 PM ET:

I wonder how long this will last?

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 10, 2008 12:24 PM ET:

C. Jordan,

My opinion only: from the US military/Iraqi government's perspective, it doesn't matter. They are going into Sadr City one way or another. If the Mahdi Army wants to continue sending cannon fodder into the maw, so be it, the US and Iraqi Army will oblige. If the Sadrists want to be blocked from elections, the government of Iraq will do it.

Posted by brett dimaio at May 10, 2008 12:36 PM ET:

Al-Sadr must get down on his rug and thank Allah every day for his enemies. 14 whole points! Signed on a piece of real paper! This campaign cannot be over until he is captured or on a slab.

Posted by Dan R. at May 10, 2008 1:04 PM ET:

Brett, I tend to agree re: Sadr. I want him either in prison for Al-Khoei's murder or dead.

And no doubt there will be some in Sadr City who will ignore Sadr's instructions to let the Iraqi Army occupy the area. They will go down fighting and will have to be killed. However, this agreement will let the IA take control of the last Mahdi Army bastion in the country that hasn't yet fallen. Once the IA is in place, then THEY will be the ones who must be dislodged. They will be the ones who can play defense, not the Mahdi Army. Furthermore, once the IA is in place, they can quickly call in U.S. units for reinforcements if Sadr breaks the agreement and starts attacking the IA.

Any way you look at it, this is good news.

Posted by KW64 at May 10, 2008 1:06 PM ET:

The power of the Iraqi security forces is increasing with time while the power of the mahdi militia is falling. So the Sadrists can lose quickly by fighting the coalition or lose slowly by waiting and conceding control to the central government hoping the coalition is withdrawn too soon and that a burst of Iranian investment can yet let them seize control.

I think with victory in the west (Anbar), victory in the south (Basra) victory in the east (Sadr City) and withing six months in the North (Mosul) it is doubtful that the coalition is going to be withdrawn too soon. But what else can the Sadrists realistically do but hope?

Posted by Rob at May 10, 2008 1:43 PM ET:

I'm probably underestimating the difficulties that await up north, but it seems that Iraq could be quite stable by this summer.

Do most observers instinctively expect the liberation of Mosul to be more difficult than has been liberating Sadr City from JAM?

Posted by C. Jordan at May 10, 2008 1:50 PM ET:

Bill,

Thank you for your point of view. I find Iraq's new resolve to see this operation through very encouraging.

My worse fear is that it slips backwards and stops putting on the pressure. Now is not the time to let up, especially with events in Lebanon. A diversionary tactic served up by Iran for sure.

Posted by KaneKaizer at May 10, 2008 2:32 PM ET:

Anyone else notice both Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army backed down on the same day? I guess it could be a coincidence, but just wanted to point that out.

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 2:40 PM ET:

Bill, et al,

If Sadr really doesn't have much control over the militias in Sadr City, it won't matter much anyway.

Posted by Alex at May 10, 2008 2:41 PM ET:

KaneKaizer,

They're pretty different situations. JAM didn't really have much choice but to back down, otherwise they'd be annihilated. For Hezbollah, on the other hand, it was a pretty big strategic victory for them unfortunately. The Lebanese government acquiesced on its demands for Hezbollah to shut down its private telecom network, and the Lebanese Army is basically acting on its own authority and not defending the government. If the Lebanese Army went toe to toe with Hezbollah, they Army might lose. In Iraq, it's a different story.

Posted by KnightHawk at May 10, 2008 2:48 PM ET:

I'd expect this "agreement" to last all of a day, not that it really matters. It's a PR stunt badly needed on there end because the population around SC (if not also inside it) was starting to turn and those who break with the agreement will just be labeled rouge elements outside of the MA control. They will claim they can't be held liable for actions of those they do not control. Allowing free traffic flows from all entrances to and from the area would be a mistake in my opinion, at least in the near term prior to significant clearing operations taking place within SC. Granted the language says "re-open" it doesn't specify the parameters of such. The agreement I suppose I should read as a net positive, but I see it more as a stalling PR tactic then any fundamental change of direction. I do hope I'm wrong thought.


Posted by Bill Roggio at May 10, 2008 3:13 PM ET:

Again, my opinion only: The Iraqi government has to show it tried to settle this peacefully. If Mahdi decides to continue attacking, they'll prove they are irreconcilable (we know that...) and it will be open season.

Also, as long as Sadr and his party maintains it controls the Mahdi Army, they will be held accountable for the actions. Sadr et al want the government, the US, the international community to think they are in full command of their forces. They'll have to pay the price for that if they can't reign them in. Or they can openly denounce the "Special Groups" and turn on them (highly unlikely given they work to the same ends). Either way it serves to divide the Mahdi Army and chip away at their image.

The gov't is clever in demanding that the Sadrist turn over the 40 plus leaders... Sadr has to denounce them or keep them in fold. Same with the part about letting the IA into Sadr City. Heads I win, tails you lose...

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 3:31 PM ET:

Bill, et. al.,

What is the current state of affairs in Bashra?

Posted by DJ Elliott at May 10, 2008 3:47 PM ET:

Basrah is 70 percent cleared and proceeding. Occasional incidents but, nothing major.

Posted by colawman at May 10, 2008 3:51 PM ET:

This is very welcome news to a father whose son lands today, a member of the vaunted SF! Bill keep up the excellent work in reporting!

Posted by Noah Herskovitz at May 10, 2008 3:52 PM ET:

I wonder how thorough a job JAM is going to do of removing all the IED/EFPs in Sadr City during this four day cease fire.
Also, in consenting to arrests of members of JAM who possess "heavy weapons", which I understand to mean anything other than AK, the IA should be arresting scores of people when they go into Sadr City. JAM clearly has "heavy weapons", so if they're not being found in large caches, or voluntarily surrendered, isn't it safe to assume that the Mahdi army is keeping these weapons and will then blame subsequent attacks on Special Groups?
The upside for al-Sadr is that he can continue to conduct attacks on Iraqi Security Forces in Sadr City while blaming forces outside his control. He'll appear weaker, but will security really be any better than it was before this new ceasefire?

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 4:23 PM ET:

Thanks, DJ

Posted by C. Jordan at May 10, 2008 4:49 PM ET:

MarkJ ,

I like your idea, sounds great in theory. Assuming the Iraqi's will be respected in Lebanon.

But how can Iraq spare the extra troops with their own security issues?

Perhaps you answered that yourself "The Iraqis, even the Shiite ones, will undoubtedly savor a major, and crushing, victory over an Iranian proxy."

Posted by robert at May 10, 2008 4:56 PM ET:

Richard1,
"If Sadr really doesn't have much control over the militias in Sadr City, it won't matter much anyway."



Of course he has control. The Mahdi militia has some very steep measures for people stepping out of the fold; so to speak, you don't want to know about. That he doesn't have control is just a sham. You will see that the agreement will hold.

Al Sadr has lost what he wants most, the ONLY thing he really wants. To have his men on the street like policemen with his own courts. Then he would be like a Caliph in before times, a state in the state.

Posted by Hamidreza at May 10, 2008 6:24 PM ET:

Bill, motown67, do you think it would be possible for JAM to move their weapon caches out of Sadr city and into the countryside during these 4 no-attack days? Obviously they will smuggle their 40 wanted persons out, if they really plan to settle.

I sincerely doubt Sadr can muster many votes in October, if he is not ruling and "protecting" the precinct. In any case, there appears to be desire in Washington to keep him on as a bogey man against ISCI and Badr.

The most important thing right now is for the GoI to distribute oil money as welfare directly to the population. Retina scan each and every Iraqi and give them a regular welfare stipend. Income from oil is $120 billion to be growing to $200 billion soon. A $10,000 annual welfare to each Iraqi family only costs $32 billion.

I wonder why GoI is so clueless about direct welfare payments. After all, the Iraqi state culture is to see that the government supplies all services and goods for free.

Is it that the corruption is so endemic in the GoI that they cannot muster a simple $32 billion welfare budget?

Posted by Hamidreza at May 10, 2008 6:45 PM ET:

MEME-watch

From AP: The bulk of the 60,000-strong Mahdi Army is not believed to have participated in the clashes. Instead the violence is blamed on splinter groups that have refused to honor a general cease-fire ordered by al-Sadr last August. Al-Sadr has directed his supporters to only fight when attacked.

Lets witness this meme under construction. That Sadr has a 60,000 intact and righteous army, which he will then resurrect in the future to press for the rights of the poor and downtrodden lumpens of Iraq. That he did not sell-out to Iran and he wishes to liberate Iraq from the occupation by tactically agreeing to a ceasefire. That Sadr will bring liberation and freedom to Iraqis. And so on.

Also - Sadrists are denying that the 14 point agreement calls for the disbanding of JAM. They have agreed to keep their light arms out of the public spaces. But do they have to disband the militia? Any further insight into this?

Posted by Knighhawk at May 10, 2008 7:01 PM ET:

Hamidreza

Income from Iraqi oil exports is growing but it's not near the number you suggested, as least given what is reported by State in their weekly status reports. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/104604.pdf
The numbers reported there would indicate more along the lines of a 65-75b total in 2008 export income, assuming that market prices stay in the 110-130 range through the end of the year.

Posted by TS Alfabet at May 10, 2008 7:08 PM ET:

Based on the very enlightening discussion over at Threats Watch the other day with Bill Roggio, Ralph Peters, Michael Ledeen and Mohammed Fadhil (Iraq The Model fame), the rough consensus on Sadr and the Mahdi Army was that the Iranians had canned him a few months back and have had him more or less on ice in Iran under the guise of "religious studies" ever since. Since then the Iranians had been replacing Mahdi Army commanders with trained operatives from Iran, even Qods Force commanders, to improve the Mahdi's shoddy performance.

If this is even partially true, then it does seem to fit the pattern with Hezbolah in Lebanon: turn up the heat to see how far the other side will go and then back off.

In Lebanon, as someone mentioned above, it was rather successful in terms of demonstrating the relative impotence of pro-government forces, including the Army. (Although other commentators on the ground in Beirut think that Hezbollah made a grave strategic mistake by letting their mask drop and revealing themselves as being clearly an Iranian, mercenary force bent on seizing power rather than the fiction they portray as "protectors of all Lebanese" against Israel).

In Iraq, the Iranian tactic with the Mahdi did not go well at all so clearly the Iranians will have to try a different approach. Also, the same fiction of the Mahdis being protectors of the poor shia in Sadr City and Basra was exposed. For all their cleverness, the Iranians seem to use the same, proxy playbook wherever they go.

As far as the ban on American units in Sadr City, that seems to be mostly a fig leaf to cover what is otherwise a humiliating defeat. Given their past practice of making big announcements and claiming achievements that don't exist, the ban on American units is probably alot of smoke. Could it be that the report of Special Forces operating with such devastating effectiveness in Sadr City was the final straw that forced the Iranians to cave in?

What next? My guess is that the Iranians may well choose to lay low for the next 8 to 10 months, rebuild their cadre of leaders and networks and see who wins the U.S. election in November. All signs point to an Iranian nuke by 2009 and that could prompt the Iraqis and U.S. (depending on who is elected) to take a more accomodating approach. It's true that a lowering of hostilities gives the Iraqi security forces much more room to grow and improve, but those nukes will be the Iranians' ace in the hole. And in the meantime, Iran can concentrate on rigging the Iraqi elections to get as many stooges elected as possible.

Posted by Hamidreza at May 10, 2008 7:34 PM ET:

Knighhawk, if oil income in 2008 is $70 B. and oil is at $120/bbl, then that means GoI is exporting about 1.9 mbd. I believe the export is closer to 3 mbd. If so, oil income is more realistically at $110 B, and not 70 B.

GoI also has other sources of income, besides oil, such as gas and LNG(?), duties, domestic oil sales, etc.

Setting aside $32 B for a monthly welfare payment of $850 to each Iraqi family is not a big deal. It will buy a lot of goodwill and help immensely in the security picture. Retina scanning will assure that there are no cheats.

This is a no-brainer, IMO.

Posted by Dan R at May 10, 2008 8:07 PM ET:

"As far as the ban on American units in Sadr City, that seems to be mostly a fig leaf to cover what is otherwise a humiliating defeat."

Good take, Alfabet. That may indeed be what's happening here. I think that Iran's leaders, after finally being confronted with irrefutable evidence of Iranian meddling by the Iraqis and seeing that Al-Maliki isn't backing down, finally told the Sadrists "Hey, sorry guys, but you're on your own from here on out."

Posted by ALLONS at May 10, 2008 8:36 PM ET:

Sadr did nothing but buy time again.... while he sits in Iran. For you who think we have seen the last of him. Please do not hold your breath.

Posted by Rob at May 10, 2008 9:13 PM ET:

The very similar truce with Sadr in Basra clearly coincided with their collapse in that city -- I suspect it's their endgame gambit when know collapse is right around the corner.

My guess is that this is what will play out in Sadr City as well. It's not a question of whether they'll abide by a truce or not. Instead, it's a reflection that they have no option other than to capitulate with whatever fig leaf they can find.

Posted by Joseph Sixpack at May 10, 2008 9:19 PM ET:

This is a great discussion - thanks to the LWJ for the good work and the great forum discussions. I hope that my long-winded post does not detract from it.


Dan R wrote: "And no doubt there will be some in Sadr City who will ignore Sadr's instructions to let the Iraqi Army occupy the area. They will go down fighting and will have to be killed. However, this agreement will let the IA take control of the last Mahdi Army bastion in the country that hasn't yet fallen."


I think it is important to note that the agreement will not let the IA, so much as it will speed up the process, IF Sadr actually controls his militia and IF he honors the agreement in part or in whole. Given those if's, the IA might enter with less resistance, meaning that more militiamen will be spared. As Bill pointed out in this comment thread, "  from the US military/Iraqi government's perspective, it doesn't matter. They are going into Sadr City one way or another. If the Mahdi Army wants to continue sending cannon fodder into the maw, so be it, the US and Iraqi Army will oblige."


However, I think Dan R's next point is a very important one: "Once the IA is in place, then THEY will be the ones who must be dislodged. They will be the ones who can play defense, not the Mahdi Army." Agreed, and I think this is the biggest issue at hand. Just because the neighborhoods can be entered with less resistance, it does not mean that the IA should rush in. If they do not have the manpower and firepower to go in with overwhelming force at the ready, then they could be positioning themselves for a modern day LZ X-Ray.


I think Bill's later assertion is overly optimistic: "If Mahdi decides to continue attacking, they'll prove they are irreconcilable (we know that...) and it will be open season." I don't think so. They will not be viewed as irreconcilable because, as KnightHawk points out, "those who break with the agreement will just be labeled rouge elements outside of the MA control. They will claim they can't be held liable for actions of those they do not control." That has been the theme for the past year or so.


I agree with Bill's observation that "Sadr et al want the government, the US, the international community to think they are in full command of their forces" but there is an important caveat to the assertion that follows from that observation: "as long as Sadr and his party maintains it controls the Mahdi Army, they will be held accountable for the actions." Accountable to whom? To the Shia populace or to the rest of the parties as well? There are two different perceptions of what the militia is. Sadr wants Iraqis to think that the militia is that group of individuals who hand out food and provide security in neighborhoods, but not the folks who engage in shenanigans. He wants everyone else (GoI, US, etc) to think that he controls all of the militia, to include the disreputables because that gives him bargaining power. The former perception gives him credibility among the masses and the latter perception gives him relevance in the political arena.


It is in our interests to embrace and exploit that dual perception that Sadr has crafted. We make it vividly clear that when we attack Sadr's militia that we are only attacking the "rogue elements." This reinforces the perception that Sadr crafted among the masses and therefore justifies our attacks and he cannot say much in response. For now, Sadr seems willing to continue this game because he has few other options. To that end, I agree with the rest of Bill's statement: "They'll have to pay the price for that if they can't reign them in. Or they can openly denounce the 'Special Groups' and turn on them (highly unlikely given they work to the same ends). Either way it serves to divide the Mahdi Army and chip away at their image." Sadr is paying the price and he has not denounced the Special Groups, but he is also not attempting to cozy up to them in public. And it is hurting the militia's image. But the alternative is no better because it would unequivocally confirm that the militia is a bunch of thugs.


This dual perception makes the debate of whom and how much Sadr controls confusing. Robert points out that "of course [Sadr] has control. The Mahdi militia has some very steep measures for people stepping out of the fold " but that does not reinforce his assertion that that the agreement will hold. Even if Sadr has control, the agreement is still for PR purposes. If Sadr controls the militia, and if he perceives that it is in his interests to violate it, then he will! And that violation will simply be labeled as the work of "rogue elements" that he will claim are beyond the scope of his militia. If Sadr does not control the militia, then the agreement will be ignored by militiamen and he will likewise claim rogue tomfoolery, recognizing that we cannot be sure whether they are rogues or not.


In the long run, this agreement is only as big as the media makes it out to be. It is PR with short-term consequences which will play out as soon as the IA act upon the decision to advance more quickly or to stay the course with its current methodical clear and hold operation. I see this ending with yet another admission that a slew of militiamen who will be killed in the coming weeks are "rogues."

Posted by ALLONS at May 10, 2008 9:44 PM ET:

Joseph Sixpack,

Your final paragraph was enough. If it took me that long to lock and load. I would never have gotten out the fire command to fire.

Posted by SoldiersDad at May 10, 2008 11:16 PM ET:

TS Alfabet,

The Iranian leadership are checkers players. Chess is prohibited in Shia doctrine. Of course...our Former Glorious Leader Jimmah the Peanut Farmer struggled with checkers.

Just as our leftover 60's radicals endlessly relive the "Glory"...so is the case with Iranian Leadership.

They keep making their clever little checkers moves and proclaiming "King Me".

Having had the opportunity to meet Master Gates when he was employed by the darkside(CIA)...I can assure you he is quite skilled at 3 dimensional vulcan chess in a darkened room. We are talking he is more than capable of playing 5 maybe 6 moves ahead kind of vulcan chess. I think Bobby Fischer could play seven moves ahead.

There isn't a living Iranian that can play more than 3 moves ahead.

Posted by Richard1 at May 10, 2008 11:23 PM ET:

SoldiersDad,

So far I have been very impressed with Sec Gates. He doesn't put up with much.

Posted by Colin at May 10, 2008 11:37 PM ET:

Meanwhile the MSM in the West will be selling this as a face saving gesture to save the INA & INP from defeat. Can't possible have everything going right before the US elections.

Posted by ALLONS at May 10, 2008 11:53 PM ET:

I love reading from wind bags and arm chair leaders. Guess that is what makes this country. :)

Posted by Hamidreza at May 11, 2008 12:18 AM ET:

motown67 -

As you say, the budget for direct welfare payment to the population exists, and is not the problem.

1) this project can be initiated by the US command. All you need is about 20 to 50 payment centers to start the project. People will travel a long way to pick up their check (cash). In this process Iraqis can be trained to a) retina scan, b) hook up the scanner to the network, and 3) dispense the cash. Very little training is required. Probably not more than 10 person per dispensation center is needed for the first release.

2) US will usher in an electronic version. Forget the paperwork. After all US's job is to build a modern administration and not rely on Saddam's outmoded methods.

3) Soviet Style command does not really apply - again the US will usher an electronic method.

4) corruption with an electronic method where the scanner is actually deciding if the cash is to be released, and not the operator, and where there is an electronic audit trail - corruption will be minimized if not eliminated.

5) forget the ministries. The IA has enough presence to carry this out with US help. How difficult is it to hold a retina scanner, take a shot, wait for 3 seconds for the dollar (dinar) amount to be calculated at the rate of $100/person/month, when the network already has full records of previous withdrawals, and then dispense the cash? You could even use an ATM. This is a minor banking operation.

It is a bit of a mystery for me why there is so much resistance to the idea of direct cash payments. What is the point of the funds sitting in the NY federal reserves when the population is under tremendous financial distress resulting in insurgencies? This is a simple banking operation and probably can be set up in a few months.

I think this resistance to direct payment is ideological and not empirical.

Heck, get an NGO to start doing this in a part of Baghdad. It will create huge amounts of goodwill, political stability, and popularity. Democracy cannot flourish on an empty stomach. That is the first rule of political science.

Posted by Batman at May 11, 2008 12:41 AM ET:

I certainly don't see the benefit of cash payouts to citizens, unless you want to cement a rentier state where no one feels obligated to work or produce anything, not to mention setting off rampant inflation. There are already enough bureaucrats on the direct dole; better to spend the cash at a sustainable pace rebuilding the country, even if that means letting in some foreign contractors.

Posted by Richard1 at May 11, 2008 12:43 AM ET:

Hamidreza,

You said, "1) this project can be initiated by the US command."

I don't think that is the way to do it. It would defeat the major purpose of the Iraqis giving the aid themselves and that is one of the most important parts of uniting the country behind the government.


The US can give advice, but this needs to be an Iraqi run operation from top to bottom.

Posted by Richard1 at May 11, 2008 12:45 AM ET:

Batman,

It should be humanitarian aid. JAM has been doing it. Do what they have been doing only without the protection racket and racketeering.

Posted by Hamidreza at May 11, 2008 1:53 AM ET:

Batman - rentiership is of a different category. It means doling out non-economic contracts and exclusivities in a non-competitive way in order to keep the patrons and minions happy. This direct cash is egalitarian and is not rentiership. This is social democracy and practiced in the US.

The oil money will be spent one way or other in Iraq. Either through direct payments or through government bureacuracy. It will be used to import goods in lieu of the oil exports. It does not produce inflation. The government is not creating money. It is dispensing oil money for goods (oil) exported. It could even dispense the oil directly - but that would not make sense. In fact the other method where the bureaucracy decides how to dispense the funds is rife with corruption, waste, and inefficiencies. The central planning method will result in inflation to some degree, due to the wastage and lower productivity.

Richard, at what costs must the Iraqis learn to stand up for themselves? At the cost of a 5 year insurrection? The US is not performing a colonial act by showing Iraqis how to dispense direct payments using modern technology. I fail to see what this has to do with sovereignty or self-help. Instead of letting the guy starve or giving him a fish to eat (humanitarian assistance), the US is teaching him how to fish. There is nothing more emancipatory than the US showing this backward government culture how to modernize and democratize. Direct cash is a high form of democratization.

Posted by Richard1 at May 11, 2008 2:03 AM ET:

Hamidreza,

I think in the next few months the Iraqis will surprise you.

Posted by Robert at May 11, 2008 3:14 AM ET:

Joseph Sixpack 9:19,

Al Sadr and his Mahdi Army never was a big problem. Sunni/Al Qaida succeeded to convince global media that blowing up Iraq citizens at markets and weddings were legitimate resistance. That is much more difficult to stop. That option is not available to the Mahdi Army. They have to attack US/IA troops directly and that is dangerous. The most dangerous job in the world (and without insurance!). You can not continue a fight where you lose 20 of your own for every enemy. That should be plain logic.

Posted by Greg at May 11, 2008 4:44 AM ET:

Hamidreza,

I hold an econ and finance degree, and I'll tell you; your scheme is exactly a rentiership. You even posted the definition of it in your own post. Non-economic contracts handed out to all in a non-competitive way. Exactly.

Assume the government hands out $1000 to everyone. Now that everyone has $1000, the shops raise their prices aggregately just as much. Hence, massive inflation and virtually no public good. Government dole's are always almost entirely gobbled up by inflation. Waste and inefficiency within the government has absolutely nothing to do with inflation under this scenario; ironically, less money being redistributed in this case would, even when its lost into the black hole of bureaucracy, technically reduce the inflationary effect of such a policy.

Posted by Cordell at May 11, 2008 6:43 AM ET:

[Ninewa, May 10, (VOI) - Iraqi forces conducted military operations against 92 targets in different locations throughout Mosul city, said the Ninewa operations commander.
He explained that the security operation to track down al-Qaeda fighters in the province was officially announced on Saturday, but it was practically started before that.

"We reached 92 targets in different places in Mosul, 60 of them wanted by security forces, with the cooperation of the city's residents," Lieutenant General Riad Jalal Tawfiq said in a press conference on Saturday afternoon, at Ninewa operations command headquarter.

"The military operation to track down al-Qaeda fighters in Ninewa province was started a while ago, but we announced its commencement on Saturday at 6 a.m.," he added.

Earlier on Saturday, Ninewa security operations commander said that the military operation to track down gunmen of al-Qaeda network in the province of Ninewa has started after "huge" military reinforcements arrived from the Iraqi capital Baghdad.]

Judging by the above report from the Voice of Iraq, Saturday was the beginning of the end for al Qaeda as well as Sadr's Mahdi Army. Hopefully, sending military reinforcements from Baghdad to Mosul will not give militants in Sadr City any breathing room.

The key phrase above, "with the cooperation of the city's residents," likely will apply equally well to Sadr City if Basra is any guide. There, the vast majority of the population formerly under Sadr's control eagerly cooperated with Iraqi forces to identify the bad guys and point out weapons cache locations.

The key question now is whether the Mahdi Army/Special Groups remnants can regroup and continue their fight outside their bastions in Basra and Sadr City. Omar Fadhil of "Iraq the Model" fame suggests that al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army might join forces however unbelievable that may seem.

Strangely, Saturday's biggest losers may have been Obama and the Democrats; the Iraq War might cease to be an issue in the November elections.

Posted by bubarooni at May 11, 2008 7:27 AM ET:

we will have to wait and see how things play out after the 4 day ceasefire, or whatever they are calling it.

however at the end of the day, the guys who get to patrol the streets with the guns are the winners and the guys who can't are the losers. the guys confiscating weapons are the winners and the guys getting them confiscated are the losers. the guys serving warrants and arresting people are the winners and the guys going to jail are the losers.

there is no way to slice or dice it any other way.

Posted by Richard1 at May 11, 2008 10:46 AM ET:

Some first hand accounts of what is going on in Bashra

Posted by AQI Losses at May 11, 2008 11:36 AM ET:

Great discussions and good news indeed. Not only on the Sadr front, but the AQI front as well. Has AQI begun fleeing the country? Some key members appear to have.

"A prominent member of al Qaeda was killed in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Sunday.

Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi, formerly one of the group's leaders in Iraq, was killed in a "fierce battle with the worshipers of the cross" in Paktia, it said without giving the date of the battle.

Another al Qaeda member, identified as Abu Dejana al-Qahtani, also died in the fighting, it added.

The leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said Qahtani left Iraq about six months ago without giving further details.

Otaibi was the head of the judiciary at the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, a group started by al Qaeda and fellow Sunni militant groups."

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L11127980.htm

Posted by Joseph Sixpack at May 11, 2008 12:08 PM ET:

Robert,

Regarding your statement that "Al Sadr and his Mahdi Army never was a big problem." - completely disagree. Sadr's militia was the driver of sectarian violence. While initiated by Sunni extremists, it was fueled and exacerbated by the Shia extremists that Sadr's militia attracted.

Posted by KW64 at May 11, 2008 12:34 PM ET:

Both Hezbollah and the Mahdi Militia seem to have been supplied by Iran and we hear that Hezbollah has trained Mahdi fighters, but Hezbollah in Lebanon had Russian-made Kornet anti-tank weapons that were used to apparent good effect against Israeli armor in 2006. I have not heard of any insurgent groups using these in Iraq. Is this because Russia is not allowing it or do we have better countermeasures so that it is not so effective?

The impression one gets is that everything against armor is done with IED's in Iraq rather than with anti-tank weapons. If that is true, why wouldn't the Hezbollah trainers of the Mahdi be upgrading their anti-armor capabilities to match what they have in Lebanon?

Posted by Rob at May 11, 2008 1:31 PM ET:

God bless, TIME. They are dogged in their persistence:

"Al-Sadr Wins Another Round"

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1739156,00.html

Among the many gems in this analysis, the author continues to cite Basra as a victory for Sadr. I'm impressed that, after all these years, the MSM can still manage to surprise me. You almost can't help rooting for these reporters. They remind of that movie 'Rudy' -- in this case continuing to struggle against the overwhelming weight of facts.

Posted by Rob at May 11, 2008 2:05 PM ET:

"From what I've read the Iranians simply haven't decided to arm the Iraqi militias with the same kinds of sophisticated weapons as they have Hezbollah."

I guess there are great satans (USA) and really, really great satans (Israel). Either that or great reprisals and really, really great reprisals.

Posted by Neo at May 11, 2008 2:08 PM ET:

If I were going to pick a metaphor for what is going on, I would pick the "juggling act" over the Vulcan chess game. Right now they are pretty stretched to cover everything they need to do. Going into Sadr City in force will be an added large scale commitment.

The IA will want to go into Sadr City in force. The 2-1 should be ready pretty soon at Taji. They will need to find more troops than that though. If they are going into Sadr City it is important to decisively move in to get the public behind your side. A weak presence is an invitation to problems. The civilians in Sadr City may be reluctant to throw their support behind a weak effort.

They are going to have to juggle forces a bit to try to keep everything covered and keep their efforts in Sadr City, Mosul, and Basra from stalling. In order to do it all they will have to leave some areas weak. Thankfully the enemies response time to take advantage of weaknesses is much longer now than it was even six months ago. I would say that it probably takes the enemy six to eight weeks to really get anything started in an area. With a little good intelligence they can probably keep shifting around enough forces to make it hard for the enemy to really get anywhere.

I still say they need to hold troops that are leaving for a few additional weeks while new Iraqi units are trained. This is all happening faster than they had planned so force balancing is lagging behind events by a few months.

Posted by BOB at May 11, 2008 2:23 PM ET:

Rob, your comment about Time Magazine is true, and in reality not suprising especially since Stengel has taken over as Editor. The following is an excerp from a Time Article about it's latest global warming cover. The following is his own explanation of what he thinks journalism should be.

'Stengel supported the use of the image and exposed his point of view on journalism. "I think since I've been back at the magazine, I have felt that one of the things that's needed in journalism is that you have to have a point of view about things," Stengel said. "You can't always just say 'on the one hand, on the other' and you decide. People trust us to make decisions. We're experts in what we do. So I thought, you know what, if we really feel strongly about something let's just say so."

I love the part about people trusting them to make the decisions, after all they are the experts.....

Posted by KW64 at May 11, 2008 3:15 PM ET:

Rob

I think the Iranians do worry about American retaliation. They clearly did not take American sailors hostage like they did the British. Re: Anti-tank weapons, one has to wonder if the Iranians are concerned about their own insurgents getting anti-tank weapons. That would make the Mujahadeen Khalq et.al. a lot more dangerous.

Still, they risked retaliation by providing EFP's. Maybe the Russians did not mind Israeli blood on their hands but didn't want to be too associated with killing Americans.

A mystery

Posted by Dan R. at May 11, 2008 6:12 PM ET:

At last, someone in the "mainstream media" has actually come out and admitted what we have all known for quite some time now. We don't have "reporters" any more. What we have are "activists" who think it's perfectly acceptable to "report" the news in such a way that it reinforces their particular point of view to the audience. I guess someone forgot to tell these people that's what "Op-Ed" pages are for.

Stengel casually dismisses the idea of objective reporting with "You can't always just say 'on the one hand, on the other' and you decide." when, in fact, that is PRECISELY what real "reporters" are supposed to be doing!!!