Sadrist movement withdraws from political process


Muqtada-Sadr-image.jpg

Muqtada al Sadr.

Muqtada al Sadr has ordered the Sadrist political movement to boycott the upcoming provincial elections. Sadr's order comes one day after his order to disband the Mahdi Army as a fighting force and the creations of a small, armed wing to attack Coalition forces exclusively.

Sadrist aides claim Sadr rejects the election process and fears being associated with the occupation. "Sayyid Muqtada does not believe in elections or in the coming provincial governments as long as the occupation forces are here," Salah al Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr, told The Washington Post.

"We don't want anybody to blame us or consider us part of this government while it is allowing the country to be under occupation," Liwa Smeisim, the leader of the Sadr movement's political committee told The Washington Post.

But the Sadrist movement has embraced the political process in the past and never feared being associated with the "occupation." The Sadrist movement won an estimated 30 of the 275 seats in Iraq's parliament. The Sadrists then joined the United Iraqi Alliance, an umbrella Shia political group. The movement was instrumental in Nouri al Maliki's appointment as Prime Minister.

The Iraqi government had threatened to bar the Sadrist movement from participating in the upcoming provincial election if the Sadrists did not disband the Mahdi Army. The move, which has wide support amongst all of Iraq's political parties, sparked panic within the Sadrist movement. Sadr had refused to disband the Mahdi Army, claiming Shia clerics supported it. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior-most Shia cleric in Iraq, said the Iraqi government is the only authority that should enforce the law.

The Iraqi government has achieved its goal of disbanding the Mahdi Army while Sadr's political rivals in the Shia benefit from the absence of Sadrist opposition at the ballot box. On June 14, Sadr essentially disbanded the Mahdi Army as a fighting force after he called for the creation of small, specialized cells to attack Coalition forces. He ordered the Mahdi Army to put down its weapons and become a social organization.

The Sadrists' withdrawal from the provincial elections and the demobilization of the Mahdi Army comes as the Iraqi government has pressed a relentless series of offensives against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basrah, and the wider South.

Operation Knights' Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qassadiyah, Maysan, and Wasit.

The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.

During the month of May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. This week, an operation kicked off in Dhi Qhar province. Just yesterday, the Iraqi military began operations in the Mahdi Army strongholds in Maysan province.



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READER COMMENTS: "Sadrist movement withdraws from political process"

Posted by Buck Smith at June 15, 2008 10:31 AM ET:

Does this effectively shut down Iran's ability to create violence in Iraq.

Posted by Caleb at June 15, 2008 10:44 AM ET:

Bill, great post. I am trying very hard not to get too overly optimistic regarding the situation in Iraq, but my feet keep going into a little Snoopy dance all by themselves. It is OK because I am sure that Ms. Pelosi has Cong. Murtha working on some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Now if Gen. Patraeus will just grab Afghanistan by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake to straighten in out, maybe that situation can be rescued from going to Hell in a hand basket.

Posted by Neo at June 15, 2008 11:08 AM ET:

"Does this effectively shut down Iran's ability to create violence in Iraq."

In the short term it could have that effect. That only holds as long as there is constant pressure to shut down the Iranian's cross boarder activities and there is an army to stop the Iranians from a direct invasion of southern Iraq. Iraq's ability to maintain internal security is getting much better but they won't have any ability to face external an external threat until about five years down the road.

In the longer term, that pretty much signals Iran's ultimate intentions toward Iraq. Sadr's people are dropping out of the political process and continuing resistance from across the Iranian boarder. Iran isn't going to develop normal relations with Iraq. Not this government, or any other government Iran don't directly control. Why is Iran so bellicose? Part of it is it's deep ideological hatred of the US, but other reasons have to do with Iran's regional ambitions. Iran's radical Shiites feel that the Arabs and other parties have cheated them out of their rightful legacy. To an extent it is part of the Shiite religious legacy. It has been politicized by the Iranian revolutionary government to a prominence it hasn't had in centuries. They have ambitions to restore Jerusalem to the Muslim world, and even more important is to restore Mecca to the line of Ali. They wish to control the Shiite religious establishment in Karbala and Najaf. They also covet the oil and resources of the Persian Gulf and bully what they consider to be insignificant tiny Arab principalities of the Gulf.

If Iran is serious about their regional ambitions they must at some future point be able to move armies through Iraq. Southern Iraq is the dropping off point to the rest of the region. They can't dominate the other countries of the region if they don't have a land link. Even nuclear weapons won't give them the leverage a direct land link through southern Iraq would create for them.

Two things are needed to block the Iranian's regional ambitions. First, is the navel and air assets necessary to keep the Persian gulf open. Second, is a blocking army in southern Iraq. Even though everyone hated him Saddam provided the blocking army in southern Iraq. Why do you think we helped Saddam with intelligence and the Saudi's with money during the second half of the Iran-Iraq war back in the 80's.

Note:
I have the suspicion that we will soon be hearing an alternative strategy. That is a strategy of withdrawing US ground forces and using Air and Naval assets to keep the Persian Gulf open. They will dig up some old codger from the Air Force that believes in using technological defense at a distance with air power. The policy will be sold as something new and different, but is essentially the same failed stand off policy that was adapted by the Clinton administration. (the Bosnia and Kosovo Strategy) If they ever actually try such a policy in the Persian Gulf the Iranians will shut down the Straits of Hormuz. This will of course cause an oil panic the likes of which you have never seen. The entire world will be clamoring for the US to quit the region altogether. Without a legitimate land threat to either block or subdue the Iranians in a reasonable time frame the US would have no choice but to oblige.

Posted by TS Alfabet at June 15, 2008 11:41 AM ET:

I wonder... maybe the best way to look at these latest moves by Mookie is through the lens of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran now knows that their attempt to wrest control of Basra and part of Baghdad with their Mahdi militias is not going to work, so long as U.S. forces remain to lend support. Iraqi security is confident, for now.

Instead, Iran may be looking to replicate Lebanon in Iraq by subtler and more insidious means. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was initially billed as a humanitarian and cultural force as well as a defender against Israeli "aggression." Since Iran has failed to secure control by way of armed insurrection, it is now going to penetrate the Iraqi, shia community by transforming the Mahdis into a humanitarian and cultural force, something that the GoI cannot attack. And there are plenty of opportunities where the GoI is not providing services or assistance. Sadr's movement needs some serioius public relations work and that's what they will do for the next 6 months or more, waiting all the while to see what happens with the U.S. elections.

Expect to start seeing articles in MSM talking about all the good things the Mahdis are doing in their communities. The reporter will quote 'ordinary' people who will praise the Mahdis for all their good work in the name of peace etc.... The MSM will be fed a continuous diet of how the Mahdis have transformed themselves into the most influential group in shia Iraq, not through the barrel of a gun, but through a helping hand, or some equally schmaltzy phraseology.

In the meantime, Iran can continue to harass U.S. forces with their Extra Special Groups and make sure that there are enough negative headlines coming out of Iraq to keep Americans weary of it all.

Just as in Lebanon, Iran will be very patient with their Mahdi project in Iraq. They will sink their tentacles deeper into Iraqi society at every opportunity. Create a separate state within a state in every area where the GoI is not working, and that is alot of leeway right now. It's very clever, actually, how Sadr said they do not recognize the GoI "so long as the occupier" is still there. This is very similar to Hezbollah's theme in Lebanon: we do not recognize the government of Fouad Sinora (sp?) since it is a Western lackey. It leaves the GoI very few options so long as they remain peaceful. (All the while using the ESG's to do the violent work as needed). And it allows Sadr to blame the GoI for every problem and shortcoming while taking the credit for anything good.

Posted by Neo at June 15, 2008 12:18 PM ET:

TS Alfabet.

You are right that Hezbollah in Lebanon is the model upon which Iranian action in Iraq is based. Bill has provided direct evidence of the Hezbollah model in past articles. Right now they are in rebuilding mode. They will try anything and see if it gains traction. Right now they are loosing ground fast and are desperate to try anything. Contrast Sadr's hard line official pronouncements with the conciliatory gestures taken by the delegation headed by Sayyid Kareem al-Battat, in Amarah.

I'm not so sure I agree that nothing can be done about Sadr's charity operations. These charities run as protection rackets and vehicles for coercion. They can be attacked on legal grounds. The government must be careful to replace services when they take these charities down. Otherwise the local people are without essential services.

Posted by Neo at June 15, 2008 12:20 PM ET:

Typo - "losing ground fast"

sorry, I am going too fast. There are mistakes in my other post too.

Posted by KW64 at June 15, 2008 1:50 PM ET:

Maybe Sadr just realized he would not win the provincial elections (notice how his protest crowds are pathetically small) and decided to avoid a public humiliation. Another case of facing utter defeat he bravely decides to bravely surrender. Later if the US leaves and Iran decides to use him as a cat's paw he can claim to be the only one who stood up to the Americans all along.

Posted by Dan R. at June 15, 2008 3:17 PM ET:

That's a great post, Neo. I might also add that Iran's mullahs fear the viral effect of establishing an open, western-style democracy next door in Iran. They know full well that a significant percentage of their population, especially those under 30, are sick and tired of living under their suffocating, fundamentalist rule. I'm guessing that they're afraid that seeing a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq right next door to them might just give these people the courage to move from passive discontent to active opposition.

Posted by Dan R. at June 15, 2008 3:18 PM ET:

Opps ... should read "next door in Iraq", not Iran. :-P

Posted by Alex at June 15, 2008 5:10 PM ET:

What is the likelihood that in the event of an Iranian armored and air push into southern Iraq that neighboring Arab countries come to aid the Iraqi Army?


Posted by DJ Elliott at June 15, 2008 5:39 PM ET:

Even if the GCC reacted immediately,
(and they will not for political reasons)
they only have the equivalent of six heavy divs that might be deployable.
In such a war, they would need forces to counter the Iranians internally and amphib initially.
(Until the Iranian Navies and Air was neutralized.)

Probably the only component sent initially would be the PSF: 35th Ku Mech Bde, 4th SA Armor Bde, and a composit mech Bde of the smaller GCC countries. All based in Kuwait and just south of the SA/Ku/Iq tri-border.

The rest of the Kuwaiti Army equals an armor Div.
The rest of the GCC is about three mech Divs.
Remaining motorized elements would be needed for internal security...

The problem is that Basrah is in artillery range of the Iranian border and those forces would probably engage on the west side of the Shatt-al-Arab...

Jordan would not have any significant forces available, they would have Syria to worry about.

Posted by Alex at June 15, 2008 6:29 PM ET:

...and somehow I don't think that Kuwait is going to be the most eager to deploy forces to defend Iraq.

But, it's better than nothing if SA might be inclined, although they've never really seemed to be very direct in regional affairs. Their action in Desert Storm is the only exception that I can think of off-hand, and they had a great deal of self-interest to think about in that one.

Maybe it's just my daydreams about a GCC "Arabian NATO" standing up to Iran.

Posted by Neo at June 15, 2008 6:33 PM ET:

I might add that any contemplated invasion by Iran would be accompanied and prepared for by inserting another wave of insurgency into both northern and southern Iraq. That would at the very least keep the Iraqi army tied down if not directly undermine it in some areas.

Would Iran be so brash? The North Vietcong invaded the south 1975 and won the gamble. Whatever ones feelings about that war, one cannot deny that the precedent has been established. US allies can be openly attacked and beaten. All you have to do is make it painful enough and the US will stand aside. I might suggest that Iran has a little less military prowess than Vietnam, but can inflict infinitely more economic pain. To those who scoff at the suggestion of an Iranian invasion, I ask: Why give Iran the opportunity in the first place? We don't have to start another war to block Iran's ambitions. We just have to finish this one with some semblance of order, and make future security arrangements.

Edited per request. DJE

Posted by Alex at June 15, 2008 7:01 PM ET:

True, Iran just might be crazy enough to try something like that, but the stakes are higher for them. To play devil's advocate, let me argue that I think we might be underestimating the damage that Iraq could do in a guerilla-style defense of their country. Granted, they cannot project power, but look at the damage they did fighting each other with poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly led bands of insurgents. Now factor in years of training, years of combat experience fighting insurgents, armor, and memories of an 8 year war with their neighbor, and Iran might find themselves biting off more than they can chew.

There is concern that Iran might place a minefield in the Persian Gulf, which certainly would have worldwide economic consequences, but it would also mean the death of the Iranian regime. Western economies, plus China, Brazil, and India, do buy a great deal of Middle Eastern petroleum, but Iran is absolutely dependent on selling it. Skyrocketing energy prices would likely mean recessions here and elsewhere, but it would also mean complete collapse of Iran. I wouldn't put it past them, though.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 15, 2008 7:09 PM ET:

Mining the SoH is an act of war. International waterway. They would not be able to close the SoH for long. Once they start, their navies and air force dies within 48 hours...

Posted by crosspatch at June 15, 2008 9:53 PM ET:

Instead, Iran may be looking to replicate Lebanon in Iraq by subtler and more insidious means. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was initially billed as a humanitarian and cultural force as well as a defender against Israeli "aggression." Since Iran has failed to secure control by way of armed insurrection, it is now going to penetrate the Iraqi, shia community by transforming the Mahdis into a humanitarian and cultural force, something that the GoI cannot attack.

They already tried that and it backfired. That was the reason the Sadrist bloc was in charge of the Health Ministry. Iran *is* in fact trying the same recipe in Iraq as in Lebanon but the difference is that the Iraqi government and Army has backbone. The Iraqi Army had some problems but succeeded in confronting the Shiite militias, unlike the Lebanese Army. As the Iraqi Army integrates more Sunnis into the force, it will become less likely that Iran will have a force in Iraq that places Shiite militias "off limits" to attack. The Lebanese Army would probably refuse to attack Hezbollah and if it did attack, half the troops would switch sides. Iraq doesn't have that problem at the moment.

Posted by amagi at June 15, 2008 10:19 PM ET:

...as far as the kind of military Iran could field, just how loyal are those forces? Assuming we do manage to get Iraq to a fully-functional open democracy with a healthy economy and far better living standards, I understand what the mullahs stand to lose, but not what the soldiery would stand to gain by defending them.

Furthermore, assuming the Iraqis accepted US air support (and I don't know why they wouldn't), I can't see as how Iran could avoid getting clobbered. The American public might be leery about committing ground troops, but I doubt that they would have much problem with bombing Iranian tank divisions.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 15, 2008 11:36 PM ET:

amagi: "Furthermore, assuming the Iraqis accepted US air support (and I don't know why they wouldn't), I can't see as how Iran could avoid getting clobbered."

You mean like the air support that was provided to South Vietnam in 1975? Or the air support to the uprising in south Iraq and by the Kurds in 1991?

Who says we would provide them effective air support?

Neither Iraq nor Iran trust US promises of air support. Not only that but, without FACs, who would be on the receiving end of such bombing?

You are assuming future factors that the Government's of Iraq and the GCC cannot trust...

Posted by Matthew (in Aus) at June 16, 2008 7:03 AM ET:

Simple question:

Are the operations in Basra, Sadr City and now Maysan part of Operation Fardh al-Qanoon which began last year, or does this new operation in Maysan just have a similar name?

Posted by TS Alfabet at June 16, 2008 8:04 AM ET:

"They already tried that and it backfired. That was the reason the Sadrist bloc was in charge of the Health Ministry. Iran *is* in fact trying the same recipe in Iraq as in Lebanon but the difference is that the Iraqi government and Army has backbone. The Iraqi Army had some problems but succeeded in confronting the Shiite militias, unlike the Lebanese Army. As the Iraqi Army integrates more Sunnis into the force, it will become less likely that Iran will have a force in Iraq that places Shiite militias "off limits" to attack. The Lebanese Army would probably refuse to attack Hezbollah and if it did attack, half the troops would switch sides. Iraq doesn't have that problem at the moment."

Respectfully disagree, Crosspatch.

While you are absolutely correct that the Maliki and the Iraqi army have shown far more backbone than the Iranians ever thought possible, what Iran has tried in Iraq (so far) has been the instant version of Hezbollah, with emphasis on weapons and naked aggression, taking over the south of Iraq. They simply miscalculated the progress of the Iraqi army, the nerve of Maliki and the skill of the Mahdis. OK, so their initial gamble to get a quick hold of Basra did not pay off. Now they know that they will have to be far more patient and less, overtly militant. Hezbollah took over 20 years to build up in Lebanon. It is time to reposition the Mahdis as a neutral alternative to Maliki if they can. In the meantime, I would not be surprised if the Iranians are grooming someone to take over for Sadr and when the time is right Sadr will be 'martyred' in a way that blames the U.S. or Maliki.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 16, 2008 8:42 AM ET:

Matthew (in Aus)

Operation Fardh al-Qanoon is the Baghdad Security Plan.
Each of the other operations have their own codenames (EG Basrah = Knight's Charge)...

Posted by amagi at June 16, 2008 3:34 PM ET:

DJ,

Thank you for bringing me back to reality. Your point is very well taken.

Posted by me at June 16, 2008 4:40 PM ET:

Im not sure that an al-Sadr endorsement will help an Iraqi politician much given the unpopularity of the JAM.