Monday, March 31, 2008

Iraq government loses its nerve

What sort of deal did the U.S.-backed al-Maliki government in Iraq offer renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to get him to pull his forces off the streets of Basra and other cities? Probably the least of it is that al-Maliki's Shiite supporters will stop arresting members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, whose cooperation in the past year has helped the government maintain the appearance of authority. The deal may also include the release of militiamen being held without charges in Iraqi jails. While the deal preserves al-Maliki's government for now, this past week's failed attack on the Mahdi Army has revealed how weak the government is, even with billions of dollars of U.S. support. The attack on al-Sadr's forces did not dislodge them from Basra and other southern Iraq cities but instead made them even more popular. In the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City, a Baghdad district, al-Sadr supporters handed out sweets to celebrate, according to the Associated Press. A jump in the number of daily attacks on the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the government center where diplomats are located, demonstrated just how tenuous the government's control over the country actually is. One of al-Maliki's top security officials was killed in a mortar attack, the AP said.

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