Posted by Curt on 13 May, 2008 at 12:44 pm. 12 comments already!

Well, looks the slaughter of Mahdi fighters will continue seeing as how Sadr apparently doesn’t have the control as he thought he did:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An agreement aimed at ending fighting in the Baghdad bastion of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appeared on the verge of collapse on Tuesday after gunmen attacked U.S. troops.

The deal between the ruling Shi’ite alliance and Sadr’s opposition movement in parliament to end fighting in the Sadr City slum district was formally signed on Monday.

But with the ink barely dry on the 16-point pact, clashes flared overnight and through Tuesday, raising questions over how much control the anti-American cleric has over some of the Mehdi Army militiamen who profess allegiance to him.

“It is clear that Sadr does not control all of the armed groups that make up the Mehdi Army,” Kadhum al-Muqdadi, a professor at Baghdad University, told Reuters. “This fighting could last a long time.”

A Mehdi Army statement read out in mosques in Sadr City late on Monday said the deal must be respected.

Nevertheless, the U.S. military said violence broke out between its troops and militants in Sadr City overnight, where seven weeks of clashes have already killed hundreds of people.

Meanwhile this article is a must read on the power struggle going on: (h/t The Strata-Sphere)

Even the most diehard Iraq hawks want to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq and lean more heavily on Iraqi Security Forces to do the hard work of defeating insurgents and sectarian militias. Which is why recent developments in Basra have been so encouraging.

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These factions recognized what too many American observers miss, which is Sadr’s uniquely pernicious role in Iraqi politics — both as an agent of instability and as a stalking horse for Iran. Virtually all of Iraq’s political factions have been at one time or another beneficiaries of Iranian largesse, but the Sadrist relationship with Iran is of a different kind. Sadr first came to prominence as the authentic voice of Iraq’s Shia masses, those who endured Saddam’s misrule and never had the good fortune of slipping away into exile. He had a level of nationalist credibility other Shia leaders lacked, which is why some Sunni cheered him on when he first challenged the U.S. occupation. Since then, however, Sadrist ties to Iran have deepened: Whereas other Shia factions take money from Teheran, the Sadrist forces are directly armed and trained by Iranians, and some claim that Iranian operatives are embedded with Sadr’s so-called “Special Groups.” These forces — which Sadr himself may no longer directly control — have been particularly agressive in fighting Americans and Iraqis alike.

This is the context in which Maliki launched his “Charge of the Knights,” which was meant to be a small-scale police operation in Basra targeted at local warlords with ties to Sadr.

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But Maliki did something unexpected: He fired those who refused to fight and pressed on with the offensive, in Basra and also in Sadr City, where a second front opened up. A tenuous ceasefire took hold in Basra, and ISF forces have cleared the streets of the militias, using tactics drawn from the surge. This was done with a strikingly small number of American and British troops, though coalition assistance proved crucial.

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Though these gains may be temporary, there has also been a more lasting change: The Sadrists have been marginalized. Even the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has been reluctant to make political interventions in recent years, pointedly condemned Sadr for refusing to disarm. Leading Sunni faction have also returned to the fold. The Kurds, who have their own problems with Sadr, are also on board. Maliki, suprisingly enough, increasingly looks like the leader of all Iraqis.

So what does this mean for our debate over Iraq? Advocates of withdrawal will insist that Maliki’s forces are just as penetrated by the Iranians as the Sadrist militias. But as noted above, this reflects a simple misunderstanding of Iranian influence. The fighting in Basra and Sadr City hasn’t simply pitted one set of Iranian-backed militas (one in ISF uniforms) against another, and it’s clear that the forces that controlled Basra weren’t popular at all: The city really was, as Maliki argued, in the grip of criminal gangs who terrorized the population.

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Unfortunately, few Americans understand what Maliki has accomplished, and how much international assistance he needs to beat back foreign elements that aim to undermine Iraq’s fragile democracy — which is, as far as neighboring governments are concerned (particularly those that begin with an “I” and end with an “n”), a profoundly subversive influence

Just one more reason why we should NOT be discussing running from this fight. While the Iraqi government is tackling Sadr and Iran quite well, they still need our support. Given time their support needs will be reduced, but it takes time. We can take solace that they are at the forefront of this fight, not us….and take solace that Maliki is even taking on this fight in the first place.

Good news not reported.

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