January 2, 2007

The coming battle with the Al-Sadr militia

MuqtadaAl-Sadr - click for larger imageIn the aftermath of the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn in what appears to be almost a Shi'a lynching, it is becoming apparent that there is a looming showdown with the jaysh al-mahdi (Al-Mahdi Army), the Shi'a militia of radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The degree of Al-Sadr's influence was clear as the cell phone video of Saddam's execution hit the internet. The cries of "Muhammad and 'Ali," "Long live Muhammad Baqr Al-Sadr*," and "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" all indicate that the majority of witnesses were Shi'a.

Will the coming showdown be with the Iraqi government and its nascent security forces, or will it require the commitment of American troops?

That depends on the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and his willingness (or capability) to confront Muqtada Al-Sadr. In the past, American attempts to control the operations of the Mahdi Army have been resisted or stymied by Al-Maliki. That has to end.

If Al-Maliki refuses to order his forces to engage the militia, he must realize that American troops will. How much longer are we going to put up with his recalcitrance?

No longer can we countenance the existence of Shi'a death squads, most of which are believed to be made up of members of the Mahdi Army. Other death squad participants likely come from the very Iraqi security forces that are supposed to confront these militias and protect the populace, be they Sunni, Shi'a or Kurd.

If there is to be calm in Baghdad, the first step is to abolish the Mahdi Army. The second step is to neutralize Muqtada Al-Sadr - by any means necessary. Only then can the sectarian violence abate and the Sunnis begin to trust the Shi'a-dominated government. It will be difficult in the wake of the Saddam execution video.
* The late Muhammad Baqr Al-Sadr was the father-in-law of Muqtada Al-Sadr. He was executed in 1980 by the Saddam regime.