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Sadr’s Dark Warning

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Posted on Apr 21, 2008

By Patrick Cockburn

Originally published in The Independent.

Iraqi government forces, with U.S. and British support, have moved into the Mehdi Army stronghold in Basra and have surrounded its main bastion in Baghdad as the Shia militia’s leader Muqtada al-Sadr threatened “open war”.

The Iraqi army, supported by U.S. air strikes and British artillery, was able to advance into Basra against little resistance while there is still heavy fighting around Sadr City, a vast impoverished quarter of Baghdad in which some two million people are living.

“I’m giving the last warning and the last word to the Iraqi government,” said Mr. Sadr. “Either it comes to its senses and takes the path of peace ... or it will be [seen as] the same as the previous government [of Saddam Hussein].”

The Sadrists see the attack on them as orchestrated by the Badr Organisation, the powerful Shia militia which is allied to the government and many of whose men have joined the Iraqi army and security services. “If they don’t come to their senses and curb the infiltrated militias, we will declare an open war until liberation,” Mr. Sadr said.


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Mr. Sadr has tried for the past four years to avoid an open military confrontation with Iraqi government forces when backed by United States firepower.

In Basra, the Mehdi Army has been able to hold off the Iraqi army in gun battles but has then retreated. But there is no sign so far of the militia being eliminated and it could probably launch devastating counter attacks in the slum districts where its supporters live.

Mr. Sadr called a six-month ceasefire last August, renewed it in February and called his militiamen off the streets when they seemed to be winning during fighting at the end of March.

Many of his militiamen are impatient to renew their battle with the Iraqi army and the Americans. In Sadr City, one Mehdi Army commander said on Saturday night that he was “thrilled” by Mr. Sadr’s threat to go back to war. “We will wait until tomorrow to see the response of the government,” he said. “Otherwise they will see black days like they have never seen before in their life.”

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sounds confident that he can win a confrontation with the Sadrists since he is backed by the U.S., the main Sunni party and the Kurds, all of whom have doubted his leadership in the past. Iran has also openly supported his offensive in Basra while criticising the American air assault on Sadr City.

In the past, Mr. Maliki has often been over-confident of his ability to act without American military support. He became prime minister thanks to Mr. Sadr’s support but this was withdrawn when Mr. Maliki failed to set a timetable for an American withdrawal.

The U.S. has long encouraged the Iraqi government to crush the Sadrists but seems to have been caught by surprise by current events in which the U.S. finds itself fighting a war on two fronts: one against the Sunni Arabs, which it has waged since 2003, and now a second, which is just beginning, against the Shia.

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Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, April 23, 2008 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

It looks to me like Moqtada al Sadr is the strongest political force in Iraq and likely the next ruler. I hear he has been studying for his Ayatollah degree, so he looks like the next Khomeini. No doubt it will be an Arab Islamic republic as opposed to an Iranian one, and there will be differences, but I suspect they will be close allies.

It’s obvious to me that if we are interested in peace we must withdraw completely and let the people of the area work this out among themselves. The idea that we have to leave troops there to prevent a bloodbath is malarky. We have troops there in order to occupy the country and take its oil, not for any other reason.

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By Expat, April 23, 2008 at 6:02 am Link to this comment

^ For an excellent overview of just who and what Muqtada al-Sadr is and why he’s so important; here’s a link to an article for those of you who still read.

Muqtada’s biggest battle already won
By Sreeram Chaulia

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By cyrena, April 22, 2008 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment

I’m inclined to disagree with the concept of ‘centuries long resentments and blood feuds’ at least to the extent that most Americans understand the culture of the Middle East.

That said, there ARE ‘differences’ between the Arabs and the Persians, as well as between the Sunni and the Shia. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t understand the differences or the similarities. (such as how the extremist minority of the Sunnis (the Wahbbists) are viewed by nearly ALL Muslims…Shia and Sunni alike, Arab and Persian alike. In short..they reject these extremists.

Anyway, here’s an interesting bit of reality from Tom Engelhardt. Just one of 6 answers to 12 questions nobody bothers to ask about Iraq. The other 11 can be found at the link below.

  11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran): The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007 (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542, according to the Washington Post’s Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create “terrorists,” no matter how many times the administration claims that “al-Qaeda” is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it’s clear that homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that it was happening. When the Americans leave, “al-Qaeda” (and whatever other groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will undoubtedly lose much of their raison d’être or simply be crushed.

  As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing - that the Shiite majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt.

  Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish) parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, “[D]espite Iran’s enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis - even most Iraqi Shiites - are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran’s support for religious parties in Iraq.” The al-Qaedan and Iranian “threats” are, at one and the same time, bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence only encourages.

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By cyrena, April 22, 2008 at 3:04 pm Link to this comment


I can only wonder. I know gates has been whining, but I wonder if he can come up with any more to get the big time air strikes going?

These air strikes have so far been on-going, but it’s hard to imagine Sadr countering them, without any similar air power.

Then again, I’m not on the ground there, so I don’t know what Sadr’s army is capable of. So far, he seems to be practicing a great deal of restraint.

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By cyrena, April 22, 2008 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment


To answer this:

“Honestly, why peaceful discussions cannot be had with two factions who apparently really care about the future of Iraq is beyond me.”

They can’t because of US. That’s the reason. In Iraq, the real aggressors are the US. If Sadr thought that Maliki and his group would work to eliminate the US, he now knows this isn’t the case..and that Maliki has long since been co-opted and corrupted by his real masters..Dick Bush et al.

The ‘factions’ in Iraq want one thing..they want to NOT be occupied by the US or any other country. Until the perpetrators of the dissention are gone, they cannot have the kind of discussions they need. Matter of fact, that’s the LAST thing the occupiers want. ONLY as long as Iraq can remain in chaos and instability, will the can the occupiers maintain their stronghold.

Then of course it helps that the US can provide all the ‘backup’ in the world, from the air. NONE of the Iraqi factions have that kind of firepower, which is why Maliki can’t do anything without the US.

So, no discussions until the evil mother-in-law can be made to leave the scene. We can’t seem to count on that happening any time soon.

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By TGodric, April 22, 2008 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was reading up on this issue and I stumbled up on this video by the real news.I guess with the provisional elections coming up this fall Muqtada al- Sadr and his allies are most likely to win and this might mean a fight against the US occupation in Iraq. Anyways, The video is available on youtube

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By Don Stivers, April 22, 2008 at 9:32 am Link to this comment

Gee.  A warlord who hates the U.S.  I wonder why.  Any of you out there remember the pictures of those children that were wailing while the brains and blood of their parents dripped down their little faces and bodies?  The children whose parents were killed by American forces shooting into theie parents car?  THOSE children, and others like them, are the ones who will be coming to American soil for revenge in 20 years.  But our government cannot make the connection. That is what Muqtada al-Sadr is all about.  Kicking our illegal asses out of Iraq. 

It is so easy to stand behind a podium an explain away the terror we have caused in Iraq while saying “Iraqi Freedom”, hoping that our idiot Congress will not put 2 and 2 together and hang our guys for war crimes and an illegal war.

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By the oracle, April 22, 2008 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nothing could have been so evident as the loss of Iraqi oil to Iran. And to think, Iran is in an ideal position to possess this oil without firing a shot. Kudos to Iran in how the US should have conducted itself in order to secure the oil. The surge will ultimately fail in the long run-the reinstitution of tribalism and warlordism by buying out the Sunnis and arming them will blowback on us. Our beloved soldiers may in fact leave with their tails tucked between their legs if we don’t get out sooner. LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!

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By Aegrus, April 22, 2008 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

Power is an illusion the people of the world secede to dictators, monarchs and politicians. It can be taken away in a moment.

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Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, April 22, 2008 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

It looks to me like Sadr is going to be the next ruler of Iraq.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, April 22, 2008 at 6:19 am Link to this comment

Watch the real news and then you will know what is really happening.

Come on guys, the surge is working, people in Iraq are happy and everything is Hunky Dory, just listen to McCain and you will feel better.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, April 22, 2008 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

War lords do not compromise they are always expanding their power,  why does that remind me if Hillary?

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By Aegrus, April 22, 2008 at 5:35 am Link to this comment

Honestly, why peaceful discussions cannot be had with two factions who apparently really care about the future of Iraq is beyond me. It’s difficult, just like with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to see who the real aggressors are, but the aggression is there on both sides. If Iraq wasn’t in a civil war in the previous years, this particular situation looks like the powder keg to ignite one if it isn’t politically dealt with. These military assaults are counter-productive.

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By TDoff, April 22, 2008 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

On the off chance that al-Sadr’s freedom-fighting rebellion against the US puppet, Maliki, fails in Iraq, we should get MoveOn to offer him asylum here in the US, and sic him on Bush.

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By Langx, April 22, 2008 at 12:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sadr’s people suffered the most under Saddam and now we are attacking them.

This is like waging war on the Jews after you save them from Hitler.


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G.Anderson's avatar

By G.Anderson, April 21, 2008 at 10:26 pm Link to this comment

How much are you willing to pay for gasoline?

Unless this war is shortened, and shortened quick, we’re going to have a war right here in America, one for survival.

Think of all we could do here in America with the money and lives we’ve wasted in Iraq.

Ask for a cease fire while we withdraw, then take what we can, destroy the rest. Put our kids on the next flight out…

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By rowdy, April 21, 2008 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment

i have read for several years, that the way out for our troops will involve a massive air war. just today gates was whining that the air force is not sending aircraft fast enough. i wonder what will happen when we launch air strikes BIG TIME on sadr’s strong hold and kill the 2 million civilians living there. maybe that will be the time we lose our billion dollar “embassy” and our puppet government will be toppled.

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By JimM, April 21, 2008 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment

wow. The Decider has really opened a pandora’s box of centuries long resentments and blood feud.
It is a shame he doesnt go there and lead by example, as he is commander in chief.
then he can experience the “romance” of combat firsthand

What a pathetic freakin’ moron he is.

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