Sunday, May 20, 2007

al-Sadr the moderate?

I've posted before on the possible role of Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq's future. My bar-buddy "Ducky" often accuses me of being enamored of al-Sadr, but I'm not. I do try to look objectively at the Iraqi political landscape, and I see al-Sadr as a likely victor. Via Cernig,, this article from the WaPo seems to agree. Note that he's no longer "radical".
The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from
politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr's image and position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.

"We want to aim the guns against the occupation and al-Qaeda, not between Iraqis," Ahmed Shaibani, 37, a cleric who leads Sadr's newly formed reconciliationcommittee, said as he sat inside Sadr's heavily guarded compound here.

"Our retreating from the government is one way to show we are trying to work for the welfare of Iraq and not only for the welfare of Shiites," said Salah al-Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr. He said the time was "not mature yet" to form a bloc that could challenge Maliki, who came to power largely because of Sadr's support.

I don't see al-Maliki lasting much longer. His support has fractured in the face of the ongoing violence. al-Sadr has a huge base of support amongst the Shia, and if he can build a working relationship with the Sunni's he'll be Iraq's next leader.
Sadr senses an opportunity in recent moves by Sunni insurgent groups to break
away from militants influenced by al-Qaeda, and in the threats by the largest Sunni political bloc to leave the government, which opens the possibility for a new cross-sectarian political alliance, his aides said.

If the sectarian war can be stopped, if the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups can join hands and break al-Qaeda in Iraq, there will be less reason for U.S. forces to stay, said Shaibani, wearing a black dishdasha, a traditional loose-fitting tunic, and
clutching a Nokia cellphone during an interview in late April. "The American
argument is we can't have a timetable because of al-Qaeda," he said. "So we're
going to weaken al-Qaeda for you."

Sadr's political followers have had informal talks with Sunni politicians and insurgent groups in the past month. "We think there is some possibility to have a closer relationship," said Hussein al-Falluji, a legislator in the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc.

Abu Aja Naemi, a commander in the 1920 Revolution Brigades, said Sadr's representatives have had informal discussions with his group.

The Sadrists, like most Sunnis, are against the idea of creating autonomous regions. They share concerns over the fate of the contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, division of oil revenue and the need for Iraq's constitution to be amended.

It would be an interesting quirk of history if the "anti-American" al-Sadr ended up helping create an environment that allowed America to withdraw from Iraq? As always,, has the best coverage.

Sudarsan Raghavan of WaPo reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has made a major political shift. He is said to be purging from the leadership ranks of his Sadr II Bloc
any extremists who target Sunni Arabs in general as opposed to "al-Qaeda." He is
reaching out for a political alliance with Sunni Arabs of a nationalist sort, and deserting the ineffective al-Maliki government. He may well be maneuvering
to have a Sadrist PM succeed al-Maliki if the latter's government falls, though
sources close to him say any such Sadrist government is a ways off. reports in Arabic that the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), Shiite rival to the Sadrists, has also been negotiating with the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni
fundamentalist) in hopes of forming a new pan-Islamic political block.

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