Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Al-Sadr Flips a COIN
It's not often you get to read a full, English-language interview with Moqtada al-Sadr's official spokesman, which is why I'm linking to this one, even if it is a week old. Sure, it's with PressTV, the Iranian version of Fox News, but hey, the Bush administration has got Michael Gordon to push its talking points, so what the heck.
The two things that stand out to me from Sheikh Salah Obeidi's version of events (major caveat there) are the lengths to which the Sadrists have gone, and are going, to try to walk the intra-Shiite power struggle back from a shooting war. From calling a ceasefire at the outset of the Surge, to holding their fire in the face of Maliki provocations after the Basra truce, to meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani last week, the Sadrists have made it clear that while they won't turn over their weapons (whether Iranian-furnished or not), they're willing to put them on ice.
The second was Obeidi's explanation for the Basra assault. The American press has primarily linked the attempt to crush the Sadrists to October's municipal elections.Obeidi does, too, but also mentions the fact that among Iraqi political parties, the Sadrists are the most likely to oppose the status of forces agreement currently being negotiated by the Iraqi government with the Bush administration. Which adds more urgency to getting them out of the way now.
The recent emphasis on crushing the Sadrists seems odd, though, given the Army's new COIN tactics. Al-Sadr is one of the few figures in Iraq who lead not just a constituency or a militia, but a movement. It might not be a movement that serves our interests, but according to Gen. Petraeus' very own COIN manual, that's not something that you crush, especially when, as Spencer Ackerman points out, al-Sadr is filling more governmental roles for his followers than the Iraqi government is able to. Saddam Hussein, using far more brutal methods, never managed to, and that was before the Sadrists had a militia to defend themselves. So I don't see how the Iraqi Security Forces are going to, even with our help.
What's more, we're going after the one Iraqi Shiite whose legitimacy doesn't depend on our, or the Iranians', support. The logic of counterinsurgency, though, assumes that the counterinsurgents are defending a legitimate government in the face of an illegitimate armed challenge. Otherwise what you have is puppet theater. And as all failed counterinsurgents eventually find out, puppets don't hold up very well in a warzone.