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Beyond Kingmaker: Moqtada al-Sadr and the Future of Iraq

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Posted on Oct 24, 2010
AP / Karim Kadim

A supporter holds up a poster of religious, political and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

By Scott Ritter

(Page 5)

The surge accomplished nothing of substance. The Sunni insurgency is reforming, armed and trained by the United States over the past three years and operating with a political and financial base of support from Syria and Saudi Arabia, respectively. Despite the much-heralded killing of Abu Musab al-Zaqarwi in 2006, al-Qaida in Iraq has proved to be a resilient foe that has never been truly defeated. The Kurdish Peshmerg has never disarmed or disbanded, but rather serves as a de facto independent military force backed by the newly found oil wealth of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Badr Brigade continues to operate, either as an independent militia or morphed into one of the various “official” security services which exist in Iraq today. And Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army likewise waits in the shadows, a large and viable force that can switch from political activism to militancy overnight. All sides are preparing for open warfare once the withdrawal of American forces is complete. The Iraqi army exists in name only. Once a major outbreak of sectarian fighting commences, it is highly likely the security services Washington is relying upon to hold Iraq together will themselves dissolve, breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines. 

The principal beneficiary from the political collapse of Maliki and Allawi will be the Iraqi National Alliance. Moqtada al-Sadr has reached out to the Sunnis of Iraq in the past, most notably in 2004 when he sent his fighters and supplies to assist in the battle for Fallujah. There is every reason to believe Sadr will continue to reach out to the Sunnis as they lose faith in Ayyad Allawi’s ability to deliver any discernable political result. Maliki’s coalition is heavy with secular-minded Shiites who reject the kind of heavy-handed form of Islamic government that had been the mainstay of SCIRI and Hakim, but who very well might rally around the more subtle approach that seems to be the trademark of Sadr’s “governance of the people.” Of equal importance, at a time when the interference of outside parties in the internal affairs of Iraq has manifested itself in growing resentment for those, like Maliki and Allawi, who are seen as the proxies of foreign interests, someone like Sadr, who is a true product of the Iraqi people, will have a viability that the others lack. Sadr is a reality that three of Iraq’s neighbors—Iran, Turkey and Syria—recognize and, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, embrace. Of all the political figures who factor in Iraq’s future, only Moqtada al-Sadr possesses the combination of domestic and regional support that will allow him to assume a leadership role. The fact that this role will be indirect, via the Shiite Marja he hopes to lead, only makes him more of a political threat to those who are opposed to him, since he will be largely immune from the vagaries of secular politics that are the bane of politicians everywhere.

While it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what the political landscape of Iraq will look like in the coming weeks, months and even years, what is clear is that those who currently aspire to run the Iraqi government will most probably not be in power. The future of Iraqi politics will more than likely be constructed around a new Iraqi government authority, one dominated by a newly anointed Ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr and his completed ideology of “governance of the people.” As demonstrated by his willingness to explore potential political partnerships with both Allawi and Maliki, Sadr has positioned himself as both a peacemaker and deal breaker.

But the reality is that even Moqtada al-Sadr cannot stop the looming violence in Iraq. Instead, he will distance himself from both the violence and those who will lead it, and maneuver to be a force of reconciliation. In this, he will be assisted by the governments of Turkey, Syria and Iran, which have stepped into the void of regional problem-solving created when the Bush administration embraced the military surge, rather than the alternatives offered by the Baker-Hamilton Report, which endorsed American diplomatic outreach to both Syria and Iran. Neither Islamic revolution nor nationalist dictatorship, a Sadr-dominated Iraq would come as close to constituting a legitimate democracy as one could hope for in a land beset with so many difficulties, if only given a chance. Moqtada al-Sadr’s role as an Iraqi kingmaker goes beyond the politics of the moment. Whether or not he can survive the looming civil war in Iraq, or the Machiavellian posturing of his numerous detractors, is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: Short of killing the king, Sadr is, and will continue to be, the principal player in Iraq for many years to come.

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By firefly, November 7, 2010 at 1:56 am Link to this comment

While America claims to be the vanguard of freedom
and democracy.

The truth is that in the Middle East, few leaders
exist without the approval and backing of the US,
irrespective of the benefits to the people. America’s
needs come first! The US chooses who can govern, and
if the people don’t like their choice, they are
‘terrorists’.

If the US doesn’t like the people’s choice, the
government is a ‘terrorist state’ (as with Hamas and
Iran) and American subterfuge is used to support ‘the
people’ a.k.a., the opposition.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, October 28, 2010 at 4:21 am Link to this comment

mdgr: Pointing the finger of blame is not just what is required to expiate/atone for the horrors, but it is also needed in order to unbind ourselves from inertial force those horrors have engendered.

Up to a point, beyond which it becomes reflexive catharsis. Beyond which, as well, it is just “bleating-in-a-blog” to release our pent-up frustrations.

Frankly, the repeated bitching is as interesting commentary to read as ... uh, dull dishwater. Besides, it focuses the debate on people/groups and not on methods, habits/motivations and means.

The real problem is in the latter. Change them and the former will fall into line. Meaning this: the tools are there to be used properly for the competent management of the economy and government. But we’ve put dunderheads in charge of the process.

That objective is far more difficult to attain in just one mid-term election. It is a long, long process of reformation—of the wasteful way we live and the manner in which we are educated to think and behave. It is a question, thus, of common values—which are wanting.

The New Age “be all ya wannabe” has led to the mess that we are in. People wannabe selfish and inward looking as they focus on their individual desires and needs. Their role models are the celebrity rich, made such by incessant media promotion.

When what is necessary is an enhancement of collective needs—better education, better health care, better usage of energy resources, better living conditions for more of our population.

And far less a wanton bent on personal accumulation of riches.

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By mdgr, October 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm Link to this comment

I would go a bit further yet from that of Moonraven

Lafayette:

Pointing the finger of blame is not just what is required to expiate/atone for the horrors, but it is also needed in order to unbind ourselves from inertial force those horrors have engendered. 

If we don’t, we will inevitably send political prisoners to Egyptian jails in the name of rendition, though we shall say there is no torture.

We shall continue to commit the same war crimes that were conducted under Bush, but under an even greater cover of darkness than that offered by Cheney.

It’s way too late for expiation at this late hour, however.

The Furies will still follow us and I am guessing that America will not escape them.

* * *

On another note, thank you so much Mr. Ritter for an astute strategic analysis of the situation in Iraq.

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By Ella Zahra, October 26, 2010 at 12:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is exactly what I have been thinking.  Thanks for articulating this analysis, Scott.

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By Arabian Sinbad, October 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment

By moonraven, October 25 at 10:20 pm

Lafayette:

Wrong.  Pointing the finger of blame is what is REQUIRED to expiate horrors.

Otherwise the door is always wide open to impunity and repetition.
=========================
Well said moonraven!

And I might add that identifying the perpetrators of these horrors is necessary as a precondition for bringing them to a court of justice and having them pay for their crimes; otherwise we will continue to regress backward into savagery and barbarity, and one day we will have not one Hitler, but many other Hitlers in these sad United States of America, which will be “united” only in criminality and crimes against humanity!

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By moonraven, October 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

Lafayette:

Wrong.  Pointing the finger of blame is what is REQUIRED to expiate horrors.

Otherwise the door is always wide open to impunity and repetition.

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By tedmurphy41, October 25, 2010 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

Whatever the fate of Iraq, never forget how it all came about, not forgetting the dead and injured left on the road to this ‘impasse’.

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By omop, October 25, 2010 at 7:57 am Link to this comment

OK Boys and girls its time to call it as it is.

Its quite acceptable and honorable to ” install a NEW state” whose justificzation is
the pseudo-history that its people have been prosecuted because of their
RELIGiOUS BE is not soLIEFS ( the jews) in one area of the world in a different part
of the world and then claim that those who oppose such a state are all religious
zealots.

If that kind of logic[?] is not so deadly it would be hilarious.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

AS: The essence of my post, which was lost on you in your mistranslation, was to lament the perennially short-sighted and misguided policies of the US political establishment!

Yes, Lead-head’s administration botched this job royally.

But, so what?, that’s history. Pointing the finger of blame never ever solved the remaining problem.

Peace in the Middle-East is a maniac’s puzzle. Let them get on with it.

And America’s blind faith/support of Israel is an impediment to the process—as we are seeing once again with Netanyahu. Europe is far more bipartisan in its approach to this highly complex puzzle.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:33 am Link to this comment

Rob: Sadr isn’t Bin Laden, he’s more of a Hassan Nasrallah type, but his rise is a great wake up for the idiots who still try to justify the war.

Naive thinking.

He’s no better than the rest of the religious nutters in Iraq.

If in power, he will install a religious regime as exists in Iran. He could also be a major threat to Israel, meaning yet another to peace in the area.

It’s easy for us to talk about this ... we don’t live in Iraq.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

AS: I was making a comparison-contrast with the “very secular” Saddam Hussein, whom the Americans could not handle, by way of lamenting that the war in Iraq has resulted in empowering “fanatically religious” groups as opposed to the previously secular regime of Saddam Hussein.

Hussein was a “secular” murderous thug—an Iraqi version of Murder Inc. and hardly an acceptable alternative.

He had killed his way to the top of the Ba’athist Party, then killed anyone who got in his way in order that his family should stay there—and with preference anyone impertinent enough to challenge him from the Schia majority.

Good riddance to him and his to murderous sons.

Until the three ethnicities (Schia/Sunni/Kirds) arrive at an agreement that installs a modus vivendi between them, the killing will continue and Iraq will teeter on a tight-rope, with no safety net.

There are plenty of national precedents for a democracy wherein the power is shared between majority and minority factions: Switzerland, Finland, Latvia, Belgium - just to name three. It’s not easy, but it is a better option than killing one another.

Frankly, it all comes down to sharing oil revenues amongst the ethnicities.

N’est-ce pas?

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By Arabian Sinbad, October 25, 2010 at 5:07 am Link to this comment

By Lafayette, October 25 at 7:48 am

VERY RELIGIOUS?

You think anyone who bows down to pray to the Kaaba daily is “very religious”? Perhaps so, but that does not seem to prevent them from killing with wild abandon.

Just like us “Crusaders”, I might add, except that we pray elsewhere ...

Just how many people have died in the name of God/Allah/Whatever?
==============================================
Lafayette,

I think that you fully misunderstood the irony in my usage of the expression “very religious.” What I meant is to say “fanatically religious” in the same sense that you referred to the Crusaders.

I was making a comparison-contrast with the “very secular” Saddam Hussein, whom the Americans could not handle, by way of lamenting that the war in Iraq has resulted in empowering “fanatically religious” groups as opposed to the previously secular regime of Saddam Hussein.

The same situation is being repeated in Afghanistan, where after 10 years of killing and destruction, the US is being forced to negotiate with the fanatic Taliban as partners to end the quagmire they got themselves into.

The essence of my post, which was lost on you in your mistranslation, was to lament the perennially short-sighted and misguided policies of the US political establishment! And I was, en essence, expressing my unhappiness with the power of such groups as the one led by Al-Sadr!

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By Robespierre115, October 25, 2010 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

If Sadr were to take power in Iraq it would be a great ending to an imperialist adventure promoted by people like Christopher Hitchens who glorified the war as some sort of march against theocrats, fundamentalists etc. Sadr isn’t Bin Laden, he’s more of a Hassan Nasrallah type, but his rise is a great wake up for the idiots who still try to justify the war.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 3:48 am Link to this comment

VERY RELIGIOUS?

AS: the very religious Shi’ah-oriented Moqtada al-Sadr, closely allied with Shi’ah Iran in a sea of Sunni Islam

Very religious your cutthroat as-Sadr? What did he do, shortly after the invasion, when Imam al-Khoei rushed from London to Iraq to (possibly) become a major threat to al-Sadr’s hold on power?

This excerpt from here:

Some of his [al-Sadr] followers are alleged to be responsible for the assassination on 10 April 2003 of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei. Judge Raed Juhi, who conducted the investigation after the incident, issued arrest warrants against Sadr and two dozen others, but Sadr’s warrant was placed under seal by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Yes, yes - a pure fabrication of the Western Powers. I can see you writing it already ...

You think anyone who bows down to pray to the Kaaba daily is “very religious”? Perhaps so, but that does not seem to prevent them from killing with wild abandon.

Just like us “Crusaders”, I might add, except that we pray elsewhere ...

Just how many people have died in the name of God/Allah/Whatever?

POST SCRIPTUM: Though shalt not kill

Ditch the war, ditch the people who make war. Let them dig themselves back into the Deep, Deep Doodoo.

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By Lafayette, October 25, 2010 at 3:18 am Link to this comment

Translation of very old French dictum:

The one-eyed man rules in the kingdom of the blind.

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By morristhewise, October 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment

There is little profit in defeating an enemy in a few days or months, but the beauty
of having the Taliban as an enemy is that they rarely come out to fight. Many live
in mountainous cracks and crevices and are supported by Pakistan who is
interested in maintaining a long war. Picking them off one by one can last forever,
it is no different in the war on drugs as soon as one pothead is busted another
lights up a joint.

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By Arabian Sinbad, October 24, 2010 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment

Good luck to the ever misguided political-America!

You could not handle the very secular Saddam Hussein, which you discarded after using him to achieve your “religion” of divide and conquer evil schemes in the area, and now you’re condemned to deal with the very religious Shi’ah-oriented Moqtada al-Sadr, closely allied with Shi’ah Iran in a sea of Sunni Islam.

The best recipe for unending conflicts, so you can continue to be the merchant of death, selling your weapons of mass destruction to both parties. As we speak, the normally non-combatant Saudis are in their way to purchase 60 billion worth of weapons, and the irony of this is that Israel has already given their approval of such sale!

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