A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Time's Up In Najaf

When I learned last weekend that the casualties among al-Sadr's militiamen had topped 300 dead and 1000 captured or wounded, I remarked to my roommate that something bigger was going on than just another momentary uptick in violence. Monday we were told that the interim government had indeed asked the US military to remove the al-Sadr militia from Najaf, and yesterday it was revealed that the Marines had received permission to enter holy sites if need be. This morning Reuters reports that US and Iraqi forces are now preparing for an all-out assault on Najaf - and that they have plainly said so. The gloves have quite obviously come off.

Meanwhile, an article in Time - apparently released before the developments reported by Reuters - laments precisely this eventually, fretting over the possible repercussions of thousands of dead al-Sadr militiamen and of having US Marines enter Muslim shrines. Will there be a massive Shiite uprising? Will the Iraqi interim government lose its mandate? Will the "Arab street" decide to hate America even more?

Will the American left ever stop wetting the bed?

Look folks, the situation in Iraq is admittedly complex. Overwhelming force is not always the solution - no one knows that better than our own military - but when our adversary provokes us into a confrontation of this nature we're forced to respond with simple, direct military action. Al-Sadr was given a chance to play ball (a chance I don't think he deserved) but instead of genuinely working towards a solution he used the cease-fire to stockpile weapons and fortify positions. When the legitimate Iraqi authorities tried to stop him - tried to make him abide by the ceasefire deal he agreed to - he responded by attacking police stations. The Marines were called in to help the Iraqi police and guardsman, and now it looks like the interim government and the US military have completely lost patience with al-Sadr's deceptiveness and bloody bids for power.

Personally, I'm glad to see it. I'm not glad to see people dying - especially not American Soldiers and Iraqi Policemen - nor am I pleased that there will be ripples of discontent throughout Iraq over this. But I very much doubt such discontent will amount to anything as disruptive and dangerous as al-Sadr's militia itself is. Eventually the Iraqi interim government was going to have to show the insurgents and extremists that it means business in a big way; they cannot be seen as weak or pliable. Some Shiites are going to be up in arms when we clean out the rat's nest in Najaf, but more are going to be impressed that the interim government acted with conviction and strength.

The choice here is to either a) let al-Sadr and his thugs push us around or b) move in and wipe them out, even if it means we take two steps back for every three we take forward. I'm for option "b", and so, apparently, are the US and Iraqi authorities - in the end, it'll still leave us a step ahead.