Iraq: September 8, 2004

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To the surprise of no one in Iraq, the Shia radical gunmen who say they follow Muqtada al Sadr, don't obey him. One reason the al Sadr men were so unpopular in Najaf was because most of them were from elsewhere, particularly the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. Here, over a million poor Shia Arabs live. The area used to be called Saddam City, and was the scene of many atrocities by Saddam Hussein's thugs, who used brutal methods to keep the Shias quiet and terrified. For over a decade, the more active Shia resistance leaders would either be killed, or flee to Iran, where the Shia clergy running that country provided sanctuary, and indoctrination in their ideas. 

With Saddam gone, the Shia leaders sustained by the Iranians returned, and began agitating for an Islamic republic in Iraq. The Iranian clerics had a playbook that included violent revolution to overthrow the secular government, and the use of lies and deception to do God's work. Al Sadr got out in front, because of his famous, but recently deceased, father. Al Sadr was more mouthpiece than actual leader, and was only "followed" when Sadr had the spotlight and the battle raged. Now that al Sade has pledged to stop fighting and become a politician, many of his  Iranian influenced followers feel betrayed, and vow to fight on until Iraq is ruled by a clerical dictatorship. This is a hopeless dream, as none of the senior Iraqi Shia clerics is interested in this. Moreover, the majority of  Iraqi Shias are more interested in economic benefits. Jobs are more important that the form of government. Iraqi Shia have long been screwed over economically by the Sunnis. The Shia want their share of the oil wealth, and don't really care who gives it to them. This plays well among young Shia males, many of whom are attracted to the idea of taking the oil wealth by force. But these guys will join the police and army first, because it pays better and is safer. Some of the rest will go with al Sadr if they can get a gun, and maybe a few bucks for food. But the Sadr militias have recruiting problems every time they tangle with American troops, because the Shia casualty rate is so high and success so infrequent.  

The Shia radicals in Sadr city have been fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces for the last few days. It's the same pattern as in Najaf. The Shia gunmen are slaughtered by better trained and armed American troops. The fighting is slowly increasing in the Sunni strongholds around Baghdad as well. The strategy is to use the American troops to smash the bulk of the armed resistance, so that the Iraqi police and army can come in and keep the peace. A major problem is that the government opponents successfully use terror against the police and local officials. The anti-government forces will threaten the families of cops and bureaucrats, an old Iraqi tradition. Bringing in cops from other areas is difficult, as the police don't like to be separated from their families, and people like to be policed by cops from the same area. Breaking the cycle of terror in Iraq is a major obstacle to establishing democracy and the rule of law. 

 

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