Sunday, May 27, 2007

United Iraqi Resistance Coming?

Sadr's dramatic re-emergence this week, his pitch for a united front with Sunni groups, and his announcement that layers within the Mahdi Army were being expelled for engaging in sectarian murders, all coincided with a recent uptick in combat with the Mahdi Army. British forces killed a Mahdi leader in southern Iraq last week, while fighting goes on in both Baghdad and Basra. Air strikes have targeted Sadr City again today, and Sadrist officials are saying that cluster bombs were used.

A new analytical piece by Gareth Porter for the Inter-Press Service says that Sunni groups are 'receptive' to a Sadr alliance. Apparently Sunni leaders in Anbar are saying that this is a distinct possibility. One of Sadr's top aides, Ahmed Shaibani, has been put in charge of a 'reconciliation committee', and talks have been in progress:

The talks with Sunni resistance leaders have been coordinated with a series of other moves by Sadr since early February. Although many members of Sadr's Mahdi Army have been involved in sectarian killings and intimidation of Sunnis in Baghdad, Sadr has taken what appears to be a decisive step to break with those in his movement who have been linked to sectarian violence. Over the past three months, he has expelled at least 600 men from the Mahdi Army who were accused of murder and other violations of Sadr's policy, according to Raghavan.

The massive demonstration against the occupation mounted in Najaf by Sadr's organisation on Apr. 9, which Iraqi and foreign observers estimated at tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, was apparently timed to coincide with his initiative in opening talks with the Sunnis.

The demonstration not only showed that Sadr could mobilise crowds comparable to the largest ever seen in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, but also made clear Sadr's commitment to transcending sectarian interests. The demonstrators carried Iraqi flags instead of pictures of Sadr or other Shiite symbols. It also included a small contingent of members of the Sunni-based Islamic Party of Iraq.

Sadr's decision in mid-April to pull his representatives out of the al-Maliki government also appears to have been aimed in part at clearing the way for an agreement with the Sunni insurgents. Leaders of those organisations have said they would not accept the U.S.-sponsored government in any peace negotiations with the United States.

The US approach to countering Sadr's appeal has been to portray him as a pro-Iranian, and they are behind claims that he fled to Iran when he feared a US attack (that also has obvious uses if Sadr's movement becomes a leading resistance organisation). Sadrist officials have stated that he never left Iraq. A meeting of Sadr and his top allies is being held today to organise a relaunch for the Mahdi organisation. Watch that space.