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Don't You Know There's A War On?

Fred Kaplan is, as ever, a must read. As the United States faces off yet again against Muqtada al-Sadr, we are faced with a maddening situation. Most Iraqi Shiites don't seem to support him, but a non-trivial minority does, and a non-trivial portion of that non-trivial minority is willing to take up arms on his behalf. From our perspective, letting a non-trivial armed portion of a non-trivial minority of one of Iraq's three ethnic groups seize power is an intolerable development, thus we must fight the Sadrists. But a large number -- most, if we assume that Sistani and Jafari speak for the mainstream, which they seem to -- of Iraqi Shiites don't want us to fight this armed minority, or at least don't want us to fight them in any way that involves, as fighting always does, killing people (including civilians) and blowing shit up. At the same time, many Sunni Iraqis would be happy to see us kill Sadrists, but they would also like to kill our soldiers. Kurdish Iraqis hold no brief for Sadrists or Sunni insurgents, but don't believe in the concept of a unitary Iraq. It's a bit of a jam and, I think, it's time to mention the love that dare not speak its name -- "the national interest."

I'm not big on so-called "realism" which I regard as fairly incoherent, but surely there is such a thing as priorities. Is there any conceivable reason to believe that Muqtada al-Sadr is the greatest threat to the United States at the present moment? Is it not the case that his connections to America's primary enemies are, at best, tertiary (i.e., he gets some support from some elements in the Iranian government and some elements [possibly the same ones, possibly others] have sometimes turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda activities), and more likely provoked by the US campaign against him, than forestalled by it? If the answers are, as I think they are, "no," and "yes" respectively than why is the plurality of American national security resources currently dedicated to fighting him?

To put this another way: Who wants to die for Iyad Allawi? Certainly I don't. If people do, they should consider forming a new Abraham Lincoln Brigade and shipping out.

August 14, 2004 | Permalink

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» Some Make Arguments... from Winds of Change.NET
I've been working on a reasoned response to John Quiggin's arguments on al-Sadr, but I've been distracted by the latest bit of spooge from Yglesias. Quiggin most recently makes the claim that...the bloody campaign to... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 9:22:06 PM

» Some Make Arguments... from Winds of Change.NET
I've been working on a reasoned response to John Quiggin's arguments on al-Sadr, but I've been distracted by the latest bit of spooge from Yglesias. Quiggin most recently makes the claim that...the bloody campaign to... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 9:27:07 PM

» Al-Sadr from Kalblog
Matthew Yglesias opines: Is it not the case that his connections to America's primary enemies are, at best, tertiary (i.e., he gets some support from some elements in the Iranian government and some elements [possibly the same ones, possibly others]... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 10:06:09 PM

» Al-Sadr from Kalblog
Matthew Yglesias opines: Is it not the case that his connections to America's primary enemies are, at best, tertiary (i.e., he gets some support from some elements in the Iranian government and some elements [possibly the same ones, possibly others]... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 10:07:05 PM

» Some Make Arguments... from Winds of Change.NET
I've been working on a reasoned response to John Quiggin's arguments on al-Sadr, but I've been distracted by the latest bit of spooge from Yglesias. Quiggin most recently makes the claim that...the bloody campaign to... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 10:08:03 PM

» Some Make Arguments... from Winds of Change.NET
I've been working on a reasoned response to John Quiggin's arguments on al-Sadr, but I've been distracted by the latest bit of spooge from Yglesias. Quiggin most recently makes the claim that...the bloody campaign to... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2004 10:09:19 PM

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Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 11:06:03 PM

Comments

Surely the US has some responsibility to clean up the mess that we started.

Posted by: next big thing | Aug 14, 2004 4:20:15 PM

"But a large number -- most, if we assume that Sistani and Jafari speak for the mainstream, which they seem to -- of Iraqi Shiites don't want us to fight this armed minority, or at least don't want us to fight them in any way that involves, as fighting always does, killing people (including civilians) and blowing shit up."


I don't know if that's exactly the case, but it's definitely the case if the "shit" to be blown up includes the Imam Ali shrine, which now has a cordon of human shields surrounding it. For pictures, see:

http://www.needlenose.com/node/view/81

The irony is that al-Sadr's militia occupied the shrine in April by threatening to blast their way in if they weren't allowed to take over.

That's the ultimate advantage Moqtada has over the U.S., Allawi, Sistani, Jaafari, and everybody else -- they aren't willing to blow up the Imam Ali shrine, but he is.

Posted by: Swopa | Aug 14, 2004 4:22:11 PM

You're providing a good reality check. Our goal -- defeating al-Qaeda -- has undergone a progressive devolution, starting with the roping in of Saddam as a substitute target and culminating in our hassles with a little local operator like Moqtada.

On the other hand, it's either beat Moqtada and a dozen guys like him, or else leave Iraq and see how crazy-Shiite and unstable it can become, with lots of opportunities for terrorist havens, etc. So we've got a mess.

An editing caveat: your wind-up sentence seems to be missing some words or to have some wrong words in there.

"If the answers are, as I think they are, 'no,' and 'yes' respectively than why is the current plurality of American national security?"

Maybe the end should be "why is he the current priority of ...?"

Posted by: Kyle | Aug 14, 2004 4:29:25 PM

Certainly I don't. If people do, they should consider forming a new Abraham Lincoln Brigade and shipping out.

I was thinking more along the lines of a "Glenn Reynolds Brigade", but Honest Abe works too...

Posted by: oodja | Aug 14, 2004 4:41:21 PM

And now, one begins to see why Iraq created Saddam and not the reverse ...

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 4:58:11 PM

As I see it, before we can have any kind of intelligent discussion regarding whether fighting Sadr is necessary, it becomes necessary to define what exactly the heck it is that we're trying to accomplish in Iraq. If the goal is to ensure Iyad Allawi's continued rule, then it probably is necessary. If it is to have free and fair elections which Allawi might (perhaps probably would) lose, it might or might not be necessary. The key is that it's rather unclear what the exact long-term goal of America in Iraq is. Indeed, that's been the problem since the very beginning. Between what we claim, and what we actually *did*, between the rhetoric and the actual execution, between the number of troops we would have actually needed to achieve our goals and the number we actually sent, it's entirely unclear what precisely we are and are not actually prepared to fight for. It's not totally clear where we're trying to go. So it's hard to tell whether Sadr is in the way.

Posted by: Jeff | Aug 14, 2004 5:11:48 PM

well, Sadr does seem to have been doing a number of things that are counterproductive both to democracy and to Allawi's interim government. Such as seizing control of the Imam Ali Shrine from the religious authorities, blowing up liquor stores, taking over police stations, harrassing people, etc.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 5:19:19 PM

Read this. It's so fucking sad.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 5:27:56 PM

Are you sure you don't mean "yes" and "yes" ??

Confusing to me.

Posted by: racer | Aug 14, 2004 5:41:52 PM

If Bush, at the time of Fallujah, under Saudi and Jordanian pressure, decided to give the nation over to Sunni Baathists or Hashemites at the expense of and with the goal of exterminating the Sistani Shia or the Southern Shia...

I hope this is not true. I wish to God that our President did not have so much history with the Saudis.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 14, 2004 5:52:52 PM

The question is misposed. No one wants or needs to die for Allawi. But we may need to fight and die for a viable Iraqi state. The question is, is there any hope of staving off civil war and complete chaos if we just give Sadr and his militia their head and let them seize control of local governments wherever they can? Is there any doubt that all the other armed forces in the country will then pile in to get their piece of the pie? Is there a quicker formula for "Greater Somalia" than that?

Posted by: rd | Aug 14, 2004 5:53:36 PM

I think, Bob, we have a classic game theory problem here.

Each neighboring state benefits from supporting their natural allies within Iraq. The Saudis support the Wahhabis, the Iranians support the Sadriyyun, the Turks support the Turkomen, the US supports the Kurds, the secular elite, and the moderate Shi'ite imams ... the result is chaos, a state in which nobody benefits. If it were possible to sit down and acheive peace and work together to build a better Iraq, everyone would benefit on the whole.

Alas.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 6:21:25 PM

praktike,
why did you post that link?

...And besides there is no “Occupation” in Iraq now, absolutely none; because the Iraqi Government has the right to ask the foreign troops to leave anytime which is absolutely explicit in the UN resolution which gave Iraq back its sovereignty...


Absolutely none? This is clearly a propaganda operation, probably foxnews affiliate...

Posted by: abb1 | Aug 14, 2004 7:13:36 PM

If it's a propaganda outfit, it's a disillusioned propagnda outfit.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 7:32:36 PM

I'm confused. Unless you are advocating removing all the troops from Iraq or just letting him take over Iraq, of course we have to fight Sadr. We can either let him take over and establish an Islamist state, let him try to take over and fail causing a protracted civil war, or fight him. Either of the first two can be done by ignoring him or by actively removing our troops from the country.

Which of the three options do you advocate Matthew?


"If the goal is to ensure Iyad Allawi's continued rule, then it probably is necessary. If it is to have free and fair elections which Allawi might (perhaps probably would) lose, it might or might not be necessary."

Both of those goals require fighting Sadr. He wants to create an Islamist state.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Aug 14, 2004 8:17:14 PM

“Sistani and Jafari speak for the mainstream, which they seem to -- of Iraqi Shiites don't want us to fight this armed minority, or at least don't want us to fight them in any way that involves, as fighting always does, killing people (including civilians) and blowing shit up."

Not exactly, it is not by chance that Sistani is out of the country. He left to make this possible and to have plausible deniability on his side when the time comes for him to “condemn” the killings.

To understand the actions the question one must ask is not what is good for US but what is good for GWB. The answer is that the chance to have a big fight in October that would bring Iraq back to the forefront is too risky for GWB. Hence the solution is to get it done during the sleepy month of August and the Olympics.

Posted by: baba | Aug 14, 2004 8:21:15 PM

What I don't get is why people like Sebastian Holsclaw go on and on about what we must do in Iraq without even trying to come to a reasoned estimate of what we can do in Iraq.

The fact that a stable, competent, more or less representative -- notice I do not even say "democratic" -- state governing the whole of a unified Iraq is the least we would regard as an acceptable outcome does not mean that even that much is achievable. And if it isn't achievable, then the path of wisdom is to get the hell out.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Aug 14, 2004 8:51:51 PM

baba- I think he really is sick. Cruise over to najaf.org and they've got some more info, with a video and everything.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 14, 2004 9:30:09 PM

What are the chances that Muqtada Sadr would actually create an Islamist state? He has to seize power first, and the only time he gains influence is when we fight him.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Aug 14, 2004 9:44:54 PM

"He has to seize power first, and the only time he gains influence is when we fight him."

Or when he seizes control of major cities.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Aug 14, 2004 10:04:57 PM

The simple truth is that the US, right from the very start of it, did not even have to deal with Sadr. He wasn't doing anything substantial enough to warrent being taken care of. He could have been left alone until such time as the Iraqi government was strong enough to deal with him in their own way.

Posted by: Robert McClelland | Aug 14, 2004 10:49:46 PM

Sebastian is mostly right.

However, Sistani was calling for elections at least 9 months ago, and those elections would have legitimated Da'wa, SCIRI, and other moderate Shia factions to the degree that they might have resisted Sadr's growth more effectively.

The moderates have resisted and condemned Sadr verbally, but at this point can't legitimately say they are acting in the interests of the Iraqi people, and so any resistance with arms would be non-governmental and outlaw. The alternative is for the Badr Brigade to ally themselves with Allawi and fight Shia Iraqis alongside US Marines. Not attractive, and probably counter-productive.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 14, 2004 10:53:38 PM

This is a part of the world where there is a debate about whether they invented political intrigue or writing first. Every American seems to be under the illusion that the Iraqis made no plans for post-Saddam Iraq or thought that the Americans would never invade. Even more amazing is the idea that Iran would not respond to being named in the Axis of Evil. Simply astounding is the idea that Europe would love the US to control the oil in Iraq.

My suspicion is that Sadr was allowed his head to test the Americans, to allow training in techniques to counter the overwhelming firepower of the US.

What happens if US takes Najaf, does this mean that they have garrison the city and become vulnerable to partisan attacks? If the US pulls back after taking the city who will control it?
If Sadr is killed, do you think that they have not got a replacement.

The pot is not just broken, it is smashed. Declare victory and walk away. The oil in the ground has only value if you can use it.

Posted by: Eunoia | Aug 14, 2004 10:59:26 PM

The problem with Sebastian is that he thinks the fact that "bad stuff will happen if we don't fight Sadr" is sufficient to prove that we ought to fight Sadr. But bad stuff will also happen if we do fight Sadr. The real question is: which situation will be worse? It's a pretty crappy error in logic from an alleged lawyer.

Posted by: JP | Aug 15, 2004 2:32:33 AM

and that, JP, is the crux of the problem, for which each person has a different answer. so today we have a truce, and tomorrow we blow up the cemetary, and Tuesday we leave the city. Next week we will do it all again.
All because a smart-aleck preacher who's daddy was famous wanted to write ugly things about America.

Posted by: justa grata honoria | Aug 15, 2004 3:24:50 AM

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