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Catfish and Cod
Friday, October 31, 2003
Al-Sadr's making trouble: VII.
(Link path: Washington Post)

Reader Jan Goodrich points us to a major story in today's Washington Post on the supporters of al-Sadr. I see three take-home points from this story:

(1) Thanks to bus transportation links, the communities previously identified as Sadr strongholds -- Sadr City, al-Hillah district, Karbala, and Najaf -- are not isolated, as the maps indicate, but a single, linked community where people and ideas can freely interact.

(2) As expected, Sadr is mainly drawing support from young, unemployed Iraqis with little else to do but follow a man who promises security, stability, order -- and jobs.

(3) Most critically -- Sadr's followers are those who disagree with the very concept of the seperation of religion and state:

Ali Hussein, another passenger, disagreed. Hussein, 27, said Sistani had defied the U.S. authority over the constitution, insisting that it could be written only by a democratically elected body. "The Americans thought they could impose a constitution, and he refused them," he said.

Abed shook his head. "It's the truth what I'm saying," he said. "Sayyid Sistani doesn't believe in politics, but Sayyid Sadr is different -- politics are religion and religion is politics to Sadr. You can't differentiate between a political and a religious leader."

Tuama, sitting behind him, nodded his head. "I don't disagree," he said.

And finally, if we arrest al-Sadr directly, as rumors indicate we will, there will be trouble:

The prayers ended, and dozens gathered near the mosque's door to wait for Sadr's departure. One man asked excitedly: "Has he come yet? Has he come yet?" Others chanted their fealty, kaffiyehs, towels and posters thrust in the air: "We sacrifice our souls for Sadr and his son Moqtada." Then they broke into another chant: "Whoever touches you, Moqtada, we'll cut them to pieces."

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, how people who were forced to chant "We sacrifice our souls for Saddam" just a few months ago can now voluntarily cheer the same thing for another man?

The Christian Science Monitor has done some detailed investigation into the violent back-and-forth takeovers of the Sadr City neighborhood council. No council sits now; the original council is too frightened of assassination (and with good reason) to return. Neither council has real legitimacy with the people, for the simple reason that neither council was chosen through a full set of elections:

Sadr City has been the most troubling of the nine districts in Baghdad. But it would be an oversimplification to suggest the younger Sadr is the whole problem. Two days spent there speaking to dozens of local residents yielded this simple fact: Most didn't participate in the selection of either council.

That's not surprising. More than 30 years of single-party rule has left Iraq with no democratic infrastructure: Electoral rolls and democratic procedures simply don't exist.

The American military did the best they could, of course:

After the fall of Hussein, the US military tried to make the council process inclusive. Using loudspeakers mounted on armored cars, it invited residents to attend meetings to select representatives to 88 Baghdad neighborhood councils, which in turn selected district level councils and one for the city.

But the method of getting the word out was far from perfect. "No one told me anything about an election - I defy anyone to say they voted,'' says Amir Hashim, an unemployed laborer waiting for a bus on a pitted roadside, the air pungent from an open sewer.

But until electoral procedures are set up, nobody can really have the proper legitimacy in Iraq -- not even the Hawza. (And what are the limits of the Hawza's authority? Over all Iraqis, or just Shi'ites? What percentage of Shi'ites must be in a district for the Hawza to take control? It's just these sorts of thorny issues -- and their repercussions with the Americans -- that have led the Hawza to not get deeply involved in politics at this time.)

As we noted before, the coalition is probably waiting for another provocation from al-Sadr to arrest him. They'd better watch out. Previous moves against Sadr's al-Madhi army have made him paranoid, and he has probably already taken steps against the possibility of an Iraqi Police / US Special Forces raid on his house.

Somebody wants to make more trouble in Iraq, with multiple notes to the Iraqi Police and the coalition warning of more attacks this weekend. These notes might be from Sadr, but it's more likely to be the Ba'athists or the "foreign fighters", i.e., al-Qaeda/Ansar al-Islam. If al-Sadr's going to try anything this week, he'll announce it at Friday prayers. Watch your televisions and cross your fingers.

Meanwhile, the backfiring continues.

Paul Wolfowitz:
And we saw brave Iraqis and heard about many others in the police, and the civil defense corps, and the facilities protection service who are fighting along side us for a new Iraq, putting their lives on the line. And again, very proud of it. That police deputy superintendent we met at the police station -- I don’t know if you heard me say, but he was shot in the leg a few days after I saw him in July. He showed me an Arabic newspaper, I guess put out by the Sadr people, that targets him in an ugly and vicious way. And he said, I’m proud of this. It’s just a wonderful spirit.

At a hospital in Baghdad:
``These are terrorist operations against the police stations,'' Kadhim said at Yarmouk Hospital, where he lay in bed with wounds from the bombing. ``They think they will be martyred during Ramadan because they are attacking us for working with the Americans, but there is nothing that will stop us from doing our duty. This is only the beginning, and we are expecting it to get worse.''

One floor up, Maj. Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim, 41, an engineer with the Civil Defense Force, lay on his back while his four tearful children, ages 4 to 13, rushed to his side and kissed his cheek. His injuries were the result of flying glass and weren't life-threatening.

``I don't have any idea what the next target will be. I was frightened at the beginning, but right now I want to complete my job,'' Ibrahim said...

However, sometimes the coalition does make stupid mistakes sometimes:
Iraqi police often complain that the Americans don't understand them, don't listen and fail to provide crucial equipment, such as guns, radios and body armor. Police in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad, have had to use taxis to transport suspects after their cars were requisitioned by another department.

Sadr City is the worst slum in Baghdad, the local equivalent of Roxbury. Conditions there demand a heavy police presence. And we took away their squad cars? Sheesh. Sounds like a problem that a local commander could easily fix with money from the CERP program. Except that the coalition is shutting that down, too. Double sheesh.

And here we go...

UPDATE: Those explosions were indeed booby-trap removals, as the story suggested. But two soldiers were killed with an "IED" yesterday. And here's another column on American plans to zap al-Sadr. Note that it is AEI, the conservative think tank associated with Vice-President Cheney, that is at least privy to (and perhaps calling the shots on?) the high-level strategic decisions on Iraqi policy. On the other hand, apparently a number of moderate Shi'a leadership voices (read: several marji' of the Hawza and/or SCIRI) want the Americans, with Iraqi Police at the tip of the spear, to take on al-Sadr. That might mean that, at the right time, the Hawza will act to still Shi'a discontent when the al-Sadr arrest is made.

Previous episodes: Other episodes: I. II. III. IV. V. VI.