Friday, August 31, 2007

The End Of Moqtada?

A few days ago, McClatchy's Leila Fadel sat down with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki for a wide-ranging interview that's well worth a read. But of particular interest was this section, which Matthew Yglesias alertly flagged:

FADEL: Why not, at this time, when there are troubled relations, and the Mahdi Army is being accused of killing governors and running astray?

MALIKI: I have no problem with meeting him. But he withdrew from the challenges to a large degree and he has big problems within the movement. That is why I have meetings with leaders from the movement but not with Muqtada and I have many efforts for reform and to bridge the mistakes through bilateral or more dialogue. Perhaps what is holding back our talks is my firm rejection of the policies adopted by the movement. And I believe some leaders have begun to understand my position and accept it as the correct position in spite of my firmness. Indeed now is the time for meetings but I believe that meeting the leaders who actually represent the movement is more to the point and more effective in quelling the situation and in isolating the gangs from the good elements and cadres in the movement. 

As Matthew noted, the passage suggests that al-Sadr has lost control of the Mahdi militia, the armed wing of his movement. This isn't surprising, given that al-Sadr has kept a decidedly low profile since the beginning of the Surge, and that according to various reports Iran has been providing support to rogue Mahdi leaders who have grown impatient with al-Sadr's policy of restraint.

The day after the Maliki interview came news that al-Sadr had declared a suspension of all armed activity by the Mahdi militia, in order to purge rogue elements. The move followed a pitched battle between rival Shiite factions in Karbala, which was apparently not authorized by al-Sadr.

Now IraqSlogger is reporting that Sadr City, al-Sadr's fief in Baghdad, is effectively under siege by Iraqi security forces. In the past, the only thing standing in the way of an American crackdown was Maliki's need for al-Sadr's support to stay in power. But now it looks like the Iraqis are even willing to do the job themselves.

Is it possible, just a few short months after his return from post-Surge exile (during which he positioned himself as a unifier by reaching out to Sunnis and trying to transcend Iraq's sectarian divide), that Moqtada al-Sadr is through? The guy's a survivor, so it's hard to count him out. But it looks like the writing's on the wall.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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