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Taking Moqtada Seriously

Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008

Patrick Barry over at Democracy Arsenal gives some reasons why we should take Moqtada al-Sadr's threats to end his ceasefire seriously in their own right, and not just in the context of our strategically over-leveraged position in Iraq:

Anxieties are growing that Sadr will shirk calls to stay passive and US forces are pleading with him to keep his militias at bay. And who can blame them? Violence levels, especially in Sadr's strongholds around Baghdad, have declined steeply since he demanded that his followers temporarily lay down arms. The prospect of a reinvigorated Sadrist militia roaming the streets looms fearfully in the minds of US commanders.

The United States is coming to realize what Iraqis themselves have long understood: Moqtada al-Sadr will play a pivotal role in the future of the country. Before, administration officials viewed him as a rogue, presiding over a rag-tag group of Shi'a militants. But now, Sadr is in a position so advantageous that it renders such claims untenable. He has consolidated authority over rogue elements within his militia and he has taken the first steps towards attaining Ayatollah status - a title that would dramatically increase his influence.

Anxiousness over Sadr's next move reflects broader concerns about integrating him and his cohorts into the political mainstream and functions as an acknowledgement that he has become an immovable feature of the Iraqi landscape. With this in mind, we should be watching Saturday's events carefully.

Again, it's not the first time Moqtada has rattled a sabre or two in the past six months. But it is something to watch, if only to see how willing we are to accomodate him.