Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Mahdi Army Survives Undisarmed

A new truce between the "Iraqi government" and the Mahdi Army. Citing AFP and Al-Hayat, Juan Cole sums up the key points of the agreement between them:
The al-Maliki government and the Sadrists pulled back from the brink in Sadr City on Saturday. PM Nuri al-Maliki had demanded that the Mahdi Army militia that serves as the Sadrist paramilitary give up its arms and dissolve itself. The compromise simply states that the Iraqi security forces would be allowed in to Sadr City to search for suspected medium and heavy weapons. The implication is that the Mahdi Army may continue to exist and may keep its light weapons (e.g. AK-47s), though it has to pledge not to walk with them in public.

The siege of Sadr City is to be lifted and the major roads in and out of it are to be unblocked, according to the agreement.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the agreement stipulates that the government should have a court order to come into Sadr City. Arrests of rogue commanders had to to be based on warrants and not just 'indiscriminate.' There is nothing in the agreement about the Mahdi Army disarming altogether, as Nuri Al-Maliki initially demanded. ("Maliki-Sadr Agreement on Sadr City; Al-Maliki Heads to Mosul," Informed Comment, 11 May 2008)
The truce is said to have been brokered by Tehran -- again.

While Washington has two enemies -- not just Sunni insurgents but also Shi'i Sadrists -- whom it can neither conquer nor coopt, Tehran has no determined enemy among the Iraqi Shia and has influence over all major factions of them. Ironically, it's Washington's desire to create "an anti-Iranian Iraq," as well as a front of Arab client states against the so-called Shia crescent stretching from Iran to large swathes of Iraq, Lebanon, and even the Gulf states,1 that has augmented Tehran's influence:
It was the U.S. attempt to create an anti-Iranian Iraq that was to play into Iranian hands and produce the very situation that Washington was trying to avoid.

The more Washington threatened air strikes on Iran because of its nuclear program, the more the Iranians sought to make sure that it had the potential to strike back at American forces in Iraq. Before he was executed, Sadr I believed that he had been let down by Iran; Sadr II had bad relations with Tehran; and at first Muqtada denounced his Shia opponents in SCIRI and the Marji'iyyah as being Iranian stooges. But American pressure meant that the Sadrists had to look to Iran for help, and in a military confrontation the Mehdi Army saw Iran as an essential source of weapons and military expertise. (Patrick Cockburn, "Riding the Tiger: Muqtada al-Sadr and the American Dilemma in Iraq," Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, Scribner, 2008)
Thus Tehran alone can help bring stability to at least the areas of Iraq predominantly inhabited by the Shia; and, together with Damascus, which has a certain level of influence over some factions of Sunni insurgents, it may eventually -- in sha' allah -- be able to help broker a government of national unity of sorts in Iraq2 if and when Washington ends its occupation of the ruined nation. That's the point that Western leftists should emphasize to counter Washington's propaganda against Iran and Syria. It's the empire, not Iran and Syria, that is the force that perpetuates chaos in Iraq and ends up spreading it everywhere it goes.

1 Washington has, however, failed to move the hearts and minds of Arabs against Iran in particular or the Shia in general. The most admired world leaders among Arabs are Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (in that order), according to Shibley Telhami's "2008 Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll."

2 In any such post-occupation government of national unity in Iraq, Sadrists will play a central role. The Iranian people, a majority of whom prefer Sadr to Maliki, correctly understand it:
A plurality [of Iranians] sees the government in Iraq as legitimate -- down from a modest majority in 2006. Asked whether "the current government is . . . the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people," 45 percent said that it is, while 33 percent said that it is not. This is down from December 2006, when 54 percent thought it was legitimate (31% thought it was not).

Similarly, 45 percent have a favorable view of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki while 22 percent have an unfavorable view. This too has drifted down slightly from 2006, when 48 percent had a favorable view.

More popular is Shi'a opposition figure Muqtada al-Sadr, who was viewed favorably by 56 percent and unfavorably by just 12 percent. Similarly, in 2006 58 percent had a favorable view and 12 percent were unfavorable. (, "Public Opinion in Iran: With Comparisons to American Public Opinion," 7 April 2008, p. 29)

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