Sunday, May 09, 2004

Al-Sadr and Senior Clerics

As the title of Bill Berkowitz's article sums up, the White House is improvising desperately to regain the lost moral, political, and military ground: "Before the dust had settled, Major General Jasim Muhammad Saleh, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, was replaced by Muhammad Latif, a former military intelligence officer who also worked for Saddam Hussein, as leader of a new Iraqi brigade hoping to stabilize the situation in Falluja" ("Bush's Desperate Improvisations," May 5, 2004). Despite the awkward replacement of one former subordinate of Saddam Hussein by another, BBC reports "relative calm" in Falluja since the new Iraqi force -- "Falluja Brigade" -- replaced US marines. If the "relative calm" holds, the occupier will try to exploit it to destroy the Mahdi Army and retake Najaf, Kufa, and Karbala. The US forces have already seized the governor's office on the outskirts of Najaf and installed Adnan al-Zurufi as a new Najaf governor. They are no doubt leaning on all senior Shiite clerics to disown and wash their hands of Muqtada al-Sadr: "Americans are now trying to destroy his Mahdi Army here in Karbala to isolate him in his home in Najaf, where the occupiers hope senior clerics will deal with him" (Edward Wong and Christine Hauser, "Militiamen Go on the Offensive in Two Southern Cities," New York Times, May 9, 2004). Washington, however, has yet to get all of its wish:
DEXTER FILKINS: There was a meeting on Tuesday. It was a very important meeting of some of the biggest and moderate mainstream Shiite leaders in the country. And when they came out of that meeting, they denounced Muqtada al-Sadr and asked him... demanded that he get out of these two cities and to take his army with him.

Hours after that, literally, the American offensive began. And I think you have to infer from that that the Americans took that as something of a... something of a green light. I think the risky part of this is that at the end of that meeting, they not only... the Shiites not only asked Muqtada al-Sadr to leave, but they, at the same time, warned the Americans against going into both of those cities, so again, very tricky business here. ("Struggle for Control," PBS, May 6, 2004)
The senior clerics, it seems, can no longer believe in their own moral and political authority over rank-and-file Shiites. If they appear to side with the Americans all the way, allowing them to capture or murder al-Sadr, they may completely lose their following -- it is this fear that has and may continue to hold them back.