Friday, April 11, 2008
Sorting through the Shiites
What is going on with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia in Iraq? Al-Sadr goes from being the United States' Enemy No. 1 in Iraq to helping the occupying forces, then goes back to being the enemy, then cooperates with forces trying to pacify southern Iraq before the Iraqi Army goes after him in a crackdown. Now, his forces are under attack by U.S. forces in Baghdad's Sadr City, the slum named for his father, even though he urges calm after the slaying of one of his top aides in Najaf. But what is the truth about the situation? Should the United States even be involved in it, or is it just a turf war between al-Sadr's militia and the other major Shiite militia in league with the Islamic Supreme Council? Does anyone in the United States know? The top two U.S. officials in Iraq — Gen. David Petreus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker — testified before Congress this week and we still don't know. Seventeen people have already been killed in the past 24 hours. Al-Sadr blamed the United States for the death of his aide, Sayyed Riyadh al-Nuri, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised a full investigation. Of course, al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council have strong links to Iran, which the United States blames for fomenting violence between Shiite groups in Iraq. In fact, the leadership of al-Maliki's Dawa Party took refuge in Iran during the last years of Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq, when the Islamic Supreme Council was backed by Iran. Al-Maliki went into exile in Syria but returned after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Al-Sadr's backing helped al-Maliki become prime minister of Iraq after the country's 2005 elections.