Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraq: The Train Wreck This Way Comes

Nuri al-Maliki had problems aplenty from the moment he became Iraq's first duly elected prime minister, but his relationship with firebrand anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was bound to result in a train wreck sooner or later.

Observers of the bedlam in Baghdad have seen the trains chugging toward each other for months, and the only question has been when and over what they would collide.

The answer apparently is Al-Maliki’s visit with The Decider in Jordan next week. Al-Sadr, who controls a sizeable bloc in the Iraqi Parliament and three cabinet positions, says he will call for a government boycott if the sitdown goes ahead as scheduled. Al-Maliki and the White House say it will.

What to make of this?

Perhaps too much and perhaps too little.

Al-Sadr is a notoriously two-faced gamer who often says one thing and does another. He has threatened to pull his supporters out of government before. But he also is the commander of the Mahdi Army, the notorious sectarian militia that not too long ago was in the business of protecting Shiites but has morphed, not entirely with his approval, into an ethnic cleansing machine.

With Iraq devolving from civil war into chaos, the stakes could not be higher:

Al-Maliki needs The Decider but needs to appear to be keeping him at arms length if he is to maintain the support of Al-Sadr and his fellow Shiite pols.

The Decider needs Al-Maliki to rescue his disastrous war policy. Convincing Al-Sadr to back off and help restore order in Baghdad is key to that.

With Allah on his side, Al-Sadr doesn’t need anybody. Except perhaps a personal trainer.


I read several media accounts of the seige on the Health Ministry, the suicide bomb and mortar attacks on Shiites in Sadr City and retaliatory attacks on Sunnis on Friday and today, but this line from the New York Times jumped out at me:
" . . . health ministry, which was besieged for two hours on Thursday by Sunni Arab insurgents armed with mortars and assault rifles."
Other accounts said people trapped in the ministry building had repeatedly telephoned for help but it was slow in arriving.

It took two hours for U.S. and Iraqi troops to get to the site of a major seige?
Two hours?

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