Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 15, 2008

al-Sadr's Recent Moves

Muqtada al'Sadr took several surprising step with interesting implications.

  1. His movement will not take part in the provincial elections, but will support 'independent' candidates.
  2. He shut down the general Sadr army and announced a special closed group that will as its sole task attack the occupation forces.
  3. He tasked his movement to take care of social issues and do welfare.

His official reasoning for the first point:

"We don't want anybody to blame us or consider us part of this government while it is allowing the country to be under occupation," said Liwa Smeisim, head of the Sadr movement's political committee.

That is certainly good marketing, but there are other reasons too. Maliki had threatened to forbid all parties that have a militia (and are not, like the Badr army, a government militia). As a Sadr party would likely win in the provinces in the south, Maliki would just as likely try everything to prevent that. The best way to avoid that threat is to support some surrogates that Maliki can not easily reject.

It is anyway unclear if the elections will be held this fall or next spring or whenever. It is also still open if there will be closed lists, i.e. only party votes are possible without knowing the candidates, or open lists where people can vote for actual candidates. The leader of the election commission, a Kurd, has his own agenda in the fight over that and clearly prefers closed lists and elections as late as possible. Al-Sadr is right to expect to get disenfranchised in the election no matter what he does. Now he avoids the fight over that while winning points with the nationalist public.

Number two is smart too.

Several top aides to Sadr said they would not be involved with the new group and said they knew nothing about it. Garawie said the members would have classified names and that some of their military activities might not be publicized.

The so far open Sadr army was neither well trained nor disciplined. But if Sadr, as one of his people says, really has some companies of trained fighters near the class of Hizbullah, these are best to operate from the underground and not wasted in open battles. To emphasize attacks only on occupation forces is another cookie point on the nationalist sheet.

The third point is what made his, and his dead father's, movement great in the first place. Sadr taking care of welfare delegitimizes the government which neither has the ability nor the will to take care of its people. It also allows him to nurture his base and to keep credibility in the eyes of the people.

The Maliki followers and the rightwing U.S. commentators will see this as a retreat of a beaten Sadr movement and a win for their side. I disagree with that view. This is a sidestep move that avoids useless open near-term conflict and will give gains in the long-term.

Posted by b on June 15, 2008 at 18:13 UTC | Permalink


huge gamble by Sadr to have attempted such a massive re-org of his organization and the product intended looks exactly like Hezbollah. If Sadr succeeds, he will have a new military wing and a new political wing (initially framed as independents or they may be decoys) operating under the excruciating secrecy & discipline Hezbollah is known for. And seems like social services likewise will continue to retain as much priority as the military & political fronts.

now we know how Sadr spent his ceasefire. He obviously was'nt thinking Disneyland.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Jun 15 2008 22:48 utc | 1

I worry about round-up of many people and tortue undertaken by the U.S./Maliki to break any underground organization. It could be very bad for so many - but of course, open battle with U.S. airpower is suicide.

Posted by: Rick | Jun 15 2008 23:30 utc | 2

tho the dominant media & even our own comrade slothrop want to pain a narrative of insurrectionary defeat - i know that the opposite is true - that what we are going to witness within the next few months is an intensifaction of the battle on the ground to counter attack the murderous intensification of bombardment by u s forces

& to paraphrase rumsfield it is going to come from the east of baghdad, to the west of it, to the the south & north & in baghdad itself

sorry the army that invests more in its relations to the press than to the health of its own men & women

sorry the nation with an army so servile

sorry the nation who has leaders whose sole business is to steal

they do not make history

they stain it

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Jun 16 2008 0:30 utc | 3

I suspect that in a few years those of us still standing who believe imperialism need be fought, will consider Moqtada al-Sadr as a great anti-imperial strategist in the same light as Ho Chi Minh.
Of course Uncle Ho had General Giap to manage the military strategy so he could concentrate on the political strategy and I wonder if Moqtada al-Sadr also has a capable military strategist. At first it didn't seem as if he did. His political moves have saved his bacon when his military strategy hasn't succeeded, the Najaf stand-off is the first major example of that. Despite the fact al-Sadr sustained many casualties and lost territory he increased his political profile.
It wasn't until after Najaf that al-Sadr was regarded as the primary leader of the Shia nationalist movement.
One wonders if this current re-organisation which by the by is by no means the first re-organisation, is also aimed at distancing al-Sadr's forces from those butchers who ethnically cleansed Baghdad's suburbs in al-Sadr's name.

There are a couple of reasons this has become even more necessary. The first is that although the Iraqi puppet government has made limited overtures to sunni leadership after the USuk purchase of peace, by way of the so called 'concerned citizens' groups, the Maliki alliance with groups such as Hizb al-Islami al-Iraqi has never been stable and has recently been strained to breaking point by the puppet government's refusal to reject the "status of forces agreement" out of hand.

By putting distance between himself and the sectarian militia's worst crimes, al-Sadr creates room for a non-sectarian nationalist movement to develop. Such a movement would get the support of the majority of Sunnis, for whom sectarianism is an anathema almost as awful as becoming a colony of amerika.
Remember it is Maliki and the Badrists on which Iraqi nationalists most often find the stench of potential Iranian hegemony.

It is this possibility of an alliance with the Sunni nationalists that indicates the second reason for al Sadr's 'restructure'. Saddam Hussein's preference for clansmen in positions of control in the military, means there is a dearth of shia followers who have a classical military education. Whilst former schoolteachers (Giap) and doctors (Che Guevara and Fidel Castro) have made great military strategists, the plain fact that few educated Shia served as commissioned officers in the old Iraqi army means that there is a greater chance of finding a competent strategist from amongst the sunni nationalist movement. Indeed the rural clans of Central Iraq appear to have the opposite problem from the Southern clans(In the western media both are usually described by their religious affiliation, 'shia' for the southern clans and their urbanised relatives, 'sunnis' for the tribes of Central Iraq).

The central clan's leadership have displayed considerable military skills - remember the set piece battles in and around Baghdad in 2006? One of them here although the biggest and most successful, a well co-ordinated pincer movement on an amerikan column which I can no longer recall in sufficient detail to Google.

The central Iraqi clans came unstuck when their political skills didn't match their military ability. That's unsurprising - Saddam didn't have a rep for encouraging and developing capable politicians.<----------- irony alert.
The biggest blunder of the central tribes resistance was allowing misinformation about their links to sunni fundamentalism (the al quaeda in iraq bullshit) gain such momentum it nearly became a reality. Iraq had been a progressive state and too many people from the former regime were turned off by insinuations of a fundamentalist regime arising from the resistance.

If al-Sadr hopes to ally with the 'sunnis' he must ensure the taint of fundamentalism and/or sectarianism has been removed. Another good reason for the reorganisation/purge.

So if Moqtada did manage to bring the central clans into his tent and has recruited a militarily capable leader from the central Iraqi clans, he has solved one the biggest problems his welfare before warfare strategy must confront.
That is finances. I'm sure that he will still be able to access a goodly chunk of the oil revenues from in and around Basra, but that is problematic, it provides a disincentive for putting the invaders under pressure by turning off the tap.

Anyhow it is unlikely that even if oil could be pumped and sold in a way that would profit the resistance without strengthening the invaders or their puppet govt, that Moqtada could o sufficient revenue to finance a welfare system on the scale he envisages.

The resistance needs external funding and al-Sadr must be wary of how much of that comes from Iran. Unlike the puppet govt's pols; al-Sadr has never supported a close alliance with Iran, he is an Iraqi nationalist to the core. through and through.
However aside from Iran who must be finding it tough to get money to hamas and hezbollah their major clients since the latest round of economic sieges Iran has been subjected to, al-Sadr doesn't have a heap of alternatives. Most of the traditional anti-colonial funding from the gulf states is reserved for those resistance movements which plan to keep the poor poor and the richer tribes rich. Those known in the west (where the conflict is always protrayed in religious terms ahead of the economically driven reality) as sunni resistance groups. If the Iraqi nationalists hope to get any money from arab oil states then al-Sadr must demonstrate that his movement won't undermine the donors in their own society. A secular, non-sectarian movement would get arab funding and an alliance with the central Iraqi tribes would provide potential donors with the assurance that the nationalist movement wasn't a threat to their own regime.

In fact it is likely that most arab states would welcome such an alliance. No one likes the USuk colonial adventure, and no one believe the colony can survive long term. So unless the arab states do manage to build an alliance between 'shia' and 'sunni' in Iraq, most arab observers probably conclude that a successful sectarian-based insurgency is inevitable.
That would leave Iran even stronger and the leadership of many arab states in jeopardy.

If the sadrists have a capable military strategist and they do form an enduring alliance with the central Iraqi tribes, they will be unstoppable.
This was always the inherent flaw in Petraeus' surge. Stopping the sectarian conflict provides room for a renewed anti-occupation resistance. The surge has halted the divide and rule strategy which is the only proven method whitey has to steal unwhite property.

Some strange bedfellows will develop. eg USuk forces aiding and encouraging the Mahdi army 'rejects'. That could mean Moqtada al-Sadr may have to go to war with former allies first.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Jun 16 2008 1:06 utc | 4

Just wanted to say that I love reading you, DiD. Thought-provoking, though I laughed out loud at the irony alert. Thanks.

Posted by: EminenceGrise | Jun 16 2008 2:13 utc | 5

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a lot (maybe all) of the Sadr people (not running) running under the developing intra-party alliance being set up by Ja'fari. It also might serve as a model for the other participating groups that hold a militia wing as well. This would enable them to evade the new law against parties with militias participating in elections, while at the same time presenting an anti-occupation united cross sectarian nationalist front voting bloc to the public, while still maintaining their militias.

Posted by: anna missed | Jun 16 2008 4:07 utc | 6

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