Iraq: Sadr Stalls On Surrender


May 7,2008: With their Basra bases destroyed, the Mahdi Army is making a last stand in the eastern Baghdad Sadr City neighborhood. U.S. troops have erected concrete reinforced roadblocks around the Mahdi Army strongholds, and then work with Iraqi troops (who do most of the fighting) to clean out the Shia militiamen house by house. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing, once they see the roadblocks go up, for they know that the Mahdi fighters use civilians as human shields. In one well reported case, a Mahdi Army warlord set up his command post next to a hospital, believing this would make him immune from air attacks. He was wrong, even though the missile that destroyed his operation also blew out windows in the adjacent hospital. In the last six weeks, the Baghdad fighting has cost over 3,000 casualties. Over 90 percent of them are Iraqi, and most of those are Mahdi Army fighters (the rest are Iraqi army and police).

Over the last five years, the Shia militias, especially the Mahdi Army, have gone from a neighborhood protection (from Sunni Arab terrorists) force, to a bunch of gangsters. The Mahdi men always demanded support from the people they protected. At first it was just some food and a place to sleep. But as prosperity returned to the area, the demands increased. That prosperity also brought with it a desire for expensive vices, like drugs and prostitution. This split the Shia militias, because some were insisting that everyone lead a life of strict Islamic simplicity. Other Mahdi men would look the other way while you partied, for a price. In the last year, as the Sunni Arab terrorism campaign collapsed, the Mahdi Army lost its last bit of legitimacy. They were now starkly revealed as just another bunch of gangsters. But they were also local guys, with nowhere else to go. To surrender meant the chance of prison, or worse. Fighting to the death didn't seem like such a bad alternative, as long as there was a chance of victory, or surrender with an amnesty. But their leader, Muqtada al Sadr, knows that surrender means a major setback for the Sadr political organization. Sadr has to make up his mind quickly, while there are still Mahdi Army gunmen left willing to fight. Another week or so of fighting, and there won't be.

Although al Qaeda is a much reduced organization, the surviving operatives still have money, and that buys support and security from detection. But the only attacks they can carry out are against soft targets (like public wedding celebrations). As hated as the Islamic terrorists are, there are still Iraqis who support this style of Islamic radicalism. There are more Iraqis who will suppress their hatred of terrorism for a price.

The government has sent a delegation of Shia politicians to Iran with examples of the evidence captured, showing Iranian support for anti-government militias in Iraq. It's accepted that some factions of the Iranian government provide this support in Iraq, and that the majority of factions, and the most senior ones, in Iran, do not support this sort of meddling. Iraq hopes they can convince the senior Iranian officials to crack down on the Iranian radicals who continue to support Shia terrorism in Iraq. That's a long shot, as allowing the Iranian radicals to stir up trouble abroad, makes them less of a problem at home.

Meanwhile, the government is arresting or dismissing hundreds of policemen who have been working for Shia militias. Many of these militia organizations (especially the Badr organization, a competitor of the Mahdi Army) have openly urged their members to join the police (especially the police) and army, and support the militia from inside the security forces.

Most of the 2.5 million Iraqi refugees do not plan to return home. That's because these are Sunni Arabs who openly supported Saddam and the Baath Party. Shia and Kurd death squads have killed thousands of Sunni Arabs who did not flee the country, and many of the refugees in Jordan and Syrian believe they are on a death list. Even though the death squads have largely been suppressed, the refugees know that memories are long in this part of the world. The desire for revenge can last for generations.

May 1, 2008: Turkish warplanes carried out several dozen bombing sorties against PKK (Kurdish separatist terrorists) targets in northern Iraq. Two days of bombings are believed to have killed or wounded several hundred PKK men.


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