Monday, April 09, 2007

Sadrists stage mass anti-occupation protest in Najaf

If the recent drawdown of Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad was a measure of Sadr's relative military and political weakness, the call for a million-strong demonstration today, and the call for unity against the occupation by Iraqi army and security forces reflect both the weaknesses and strengths of his strategy. Mass action is certainly the best way to defeat the occupiers, but why so little of this to date? Why only an anniversary bash? Why not fill the streets and shut down the cities every other day? The strategy of limited military combat with occupying troops has borne some fruit, but it has been vitiated by an increasing reliance on the militias to fight pitch battles with nearby Sunni areas as they get bogged down in the sectarian mire. The grim tactics of that particular form of warfare, although Sadr himself has generally spoken against it, are compounded by the grim result that the prospects of Sunni-Shiite cooperation, which have always sort of depended on Sadr, are immeasurably reduced. Further, the appeal to Iraqi army and security forces to take part in the resistance against the occupation is certainly tactically wise, but it fits into an overall strategy of bargaining for power within the institutions created by the occupiers and among the sectarian Shiite forces, rather than forming real Iraqi national unity against the occupiers.

Already, huge crowds of hundreds of thousands have been reported, (a figure reduced to 'thousands' in some American newspapers), which is indicative of the enduring strength and pull of the Mahdi Army. They have certainly been able to deal some highly effective military blows to the British occupiers in the south. Yet they show no sign of being able to withstand the brutal American-led attacks alone. In Diwaniyah, a combination of street-fighting and vicious aerial bombardment has proven so overwhelming that Sadr has urged his fighters and the Iraqi security forces to cease the fighting, referring to it as an American trap. A coalition with the Sunni resistance is surely indicated, and has been attempted - yet there is no sign of it being revived.