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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Al-Sadr Gets His War

I really thought al-Sadr was going to wriggle off the hook when the interim government offered him that peace deal on Tuesday. Even yesterday it looked like he was ready to accept, but then it turned out he had imposed too many conditions on his disarmament. In an impressive display of resolve, the Iraqi government rejected al-Sadr's attempt to win concessions from them and delivered him an ultimatum: Surrender immediately and unconditionally or face certain attack. Al-Sadr has refused, and now it looks like the battle for the Imam Ali Mosque has begun.

Al-Sadr Militiamen in Najaf (Reuters Photo) Posted by Hello

Lots of Iraqis are going to die here, folks. Many hundreds of al-Sadr's men, at least, and probably dozens of the Iraqi soldiers who are tasked with removing them from the shrine. If the fighting spreads outwards from that building, al-Sadr's militiamen will inevitably run into US troops - who are maintaining a cordon about 400 yards from the mosque - and then we might lose some soldiers as well. If the Iraqi authorities really press the attack all the way it's going to be a bloodbath, period.

In previous posts I have said that al-Sadr is more interested in power for himself and his faction that he is in "resisting the occupiers" (his anti-Americanism is just a means to an end ... thankless bigotry aimed at a convenient target). I maintain that assessment even though he didn't back down; I think al-Sadr believes he can still hold out long enough - and perhaps make the battle bloody enough - to win concessions from the Iraqi government. He has grossly underestimated their resolve, I'm afraid, just as Saddam underestimated ours. People are fed up with thugs influencing policy across greater Arabia, and al-Sadr is going to have to serve as another example of how civilized people are now willing to make significant sacrifices to remove fanatics and strongmen.

This is a true test for Allawi's government. I wish them success, and safety for the brave Iraqis charged with the task of removing this thug that has occupied one of their holy places.