Monday, April 19, 2004

Muqtada Al-Sadr and the United Nations

The Mail & Guardian reports that Muqtada Al-Sadr has reversed his opposition to the UN peacekeeping force, communicating the Mahdi Army's conditions through his spokesman Qais al-Khazaali: "We favour the despatch of such a force on condition that it be made up of Muslim countries or countries which did not join the occupation of Iraq, such as Russia, France or Germany" ("Al-Sadr Conditionally Backs UN Force," April 19, 2004). Juan Cole concludes that it is not likely that "Muqtada will get his blue helmets in Najaf," given a fragile truce between the Mahdi Army and the US military, which may end in "a violent earthquake" of renewed insurgency and counter-insurgency: "Most 'Coalition partners' signed up for peacekeeping or reconstruction, not to fight against guerrillas" ("Najaf: Muqtada, Myers, and Zapatero," April 19, 2004). I agree with Cole. Then, the question becomes, why does Al-Sadr demand what he must know is impossible: a UN peacekeeping force in Iraq minus US and other militaries that have invaded and occupied it till now? Unless the young cleric is out of touch with reality, he must have issued the demand (or rather the challenge), knowing full well that it will be rejected by Washington. By distinguishing the governments that have opposed the invasion of Iraq from "the Coalition of the Willing," as well as calling on Iraqis to stop all attacks on Spanish soldiers after the announcement of Spain's speedy withdrawal ("Spanish Troops to Leave Iraq,", April 20, 2004), Al-Sadr can further isolate Washington and its remaining allies from the rest of the world; at the same time, by compelling Washington to publicly refuse an Iraqi demand for a UN peacekeeping force that pointedly excludes the current occupiers, Al-Sadr can strike a diplomatic blow against Washington's attempt to get the United Nations to approve a resolution on "peacekeeping" in Iraq on Washington's own terms. All in all, it probably is a very smart move on Al-Sadr's part.

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