Significant developments in Baghdad
Bill Roggio has an update on the story behind the curfew. "Richard Fernandez looked at the possibility that Sadr and the Madhi Army were the targets of the raid. However the politician in question was 'Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Consensus Front, the largest bloc of Sunni parties in Iraq, which holds about a sixth of the seats in Parliament,' according to the New York Times. A bodyguard of al-Dulaimi was the target of the raid. 'American forces detained an Iraqi working for one of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni Arab political leaders on Friday on suspicion that the man was helping to plan a multiple-car suicide bombing inside the Green Zone.'"
Curfew declared in Baghdad: To run until Sunday morning in response to intelligence information about an unspecified threat. (BBC). Iraq the Model reports Baghdad clashes: “… gun battles took place in several districts … unknown armed men have taken to the streets in more than a few districts … whether the armed men belong to Sunni insurgent groups or Shia militias could not be confirmed. In fact it’s quiet possible that it could be both … TV networks reported that the home of a senior lawmaker from a “large political bloc” was raided by a joint Iraqi-American force. The identity of the lawmaker was kept secret “due to the sensitivity of the case” the report said. The news also indicated the politician was arrested after a bomb factory and at least one VBIED were discovered during the raid. So some people are speculating that the current escalation is a reaction to the arrest. Others believe the situation is connected to the threat a senior aide to Sadr made during the Friday prayers. Hazim al-Aaraji, one of the closest aides to Muqtada al-Sadr warned the government on Friday that the Sadr movement would “start a revolution to topple the government if anyone dared arrest or harm Sayyed Muqtada…” For analysis, see below:
With those opening bars, let's replay the tune (thanks to Bill Roggio's help and archives) and see if we can deduce the score.
|Six months or more ago al-Qaeda tells Zarqawi to start building coalitions and quit killing everyone in sight.||"you should consult with your mujahidin brothers who are with you in Iraq itself, such as our brothers Ansar al-Sunnah and others, no matter how much you have to say about, or reservations about, them, or some of them. An example of this is the issue of announcing a war against the Shi’ite turncoats and killing them. Another is, expanding the arena of the war to neighboring countries, and also undertaking some large-scale operations whose impact is great and whose influence is pervasive, and things of that nature."|
|US recruits Anbar tribes to fight al-Qaeda -- now reported but may have been in the works for a long time||Less than two weeks after 25 of the 31 predominately Sunni tribes in Anbar Province pledged to fight al-Qaeda and support the Shiite led government of Prime Minister Maliki, the tribes have taken a shot against al-Qaeda fighters. Reuters reports five al-Qaeda were captured in the city of Ramadi, “including three foreign fighters from Yemen.”|
|US moves against Sadr's men in Diwaniyah, after they defy and fire on the Iraqi government forces.||"Since the spring of this year, the Iraqi government and the Coalition have been slowly chipping away at Sadr's power base in Baghdad and southern Iraq. A raid on a Sadr husseiniya in in the Ur Hayy district of Baghdad in March of 2006 was followed by a strike against death squad commander Abu Duri and an operation against the Sadrain mosque in Zafaraniya in July, and a series of operations in August. Couple this with the threat to remove ministers loyal to Sadr from Maliki's cabinet, and the stage is set for Iraqi and Coalition forces to begin operations against Sadr."|
|The World Public Opinion Poll finds political trends which are broadly supporting of the current Iraqi government. However, the presence of US troops is a political issue which Sadr hopes to exploit to gain popularity vis a vis the Shi'a community. Outside the Shi'a community, Sadr is anathema.||Among Shi'ites Sistani has 95%
popularity, Maliki 86% and Sadr 81%. But Maliki is the only leader to have
significant popularity among Kurds and even Sunnis. So Sadr is behind both
Maliki and Sistani.
None of the Iraqis surved are crazy about being taken over by neighboring countries. "Shias have mildly positive views of Iran and its President, while Kurds and Sunnis have strongly negative views. Shias and Kurds have mostly negative views of Syria, while Sunnis are mildly positive. Shias have overwhelmingly positive views of Hezbollah, while Kurds and Sunnis have negative views."
Al-Qaeda is highly unpopular (94% negative) and only gets a 39% approval even from the Sunnis.
Most people (77%) want the government to control the militias, even the Shi'a (65%).
Slightly more than half (53%) see a withdrawal of US forces as helping Maliki's government remove a political liability; 72% see Iraq as remaining united over the next five years.
|US and Iraqi forces are unable to prosecute Sadr to the full extent because of political sensitivities. Note this example for MNF, c/o Bill Roggio. (Sept 22)||BAGHDAD – A specially trained
Iraqi Army unit conducted an early-morning raid Sept. 21 looking for a
suspect engaged in kidnapping and murder in Baghdad. The Iraqi unit, with
coalition force advisers, surrounded and entered a building believed to
hold the suspect. Iraqi forces found the suspect’s passport and five
Iraqi citizens inside the building. Citizens who were questioned indicated
that the suspect had fled to a building listed as “sensitive,” the
National Dialogue headquarters.
Based on the nature of the National Dialogue headquarters, Iraqi Army forces were denied permission to enter the building. In preparing to depart the area, the Iraqi Army unit observed that the building had numerous surveillance cameras affording an unrestricted view of the Iraqi ground force. A machine gun was also emplaced on the roof of the building. Several individuals were seen on the roof in the vicinity of the machine gun. As a protective measure, several lights surrounding the objective area were shot out by Iraqi forces to lower light levels as a precaution against the cameras and machine gun. The Iraqi force, with coalition advisers, departed without further incident. No individuals were detained during this operation.
|Sadr thinks the US is trying to bait him into a confrontation -- a "make my day" scenario. The Washington Post reports.||U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested top
aides to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in pre-dawn raids Thursday,
according to Sadr officials who called the move a provocation designed to
trigger a full-blown battle between the groups.
"It is obvious they want to draw the Sadr movement into a military confrontation," said Abdul Razzak al-Nedawi, a leader of the Sadr movement in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. "But we are trying our best to avoid such confrontation and find alternative ways to armed confrontation."
|Iraq Updates (c/o Bill Roggio) confirms this perception that Sadr is being lured to his doom. He responds with a call for political war to hammer Maliki on the subject of US troop presence.||The Shiite radical cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr seems to be willing to compromise and is urging his followers not
to use force in opposing the Iraqi government and the presence of U.S.
“I want you to wage a peaceful war against them (Americans). I do not wish to see a single drop of blood shed because it is very dear to us. Engage them (Americans) in a popular, peaceful and political war,” he asked his followers.
|The US makes the militias a major issue (UK Times), drawn a fuzzy line in the sand:||A series of unprecedented comments
by US officers indicated a growing anxiety over whether Nouri al-Maliki,
the Iraqi Prime Minister, would confront his two biggest Shia coalition
partners, including the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Both have been linked
to death squad killings.
One US military official, who has knowledge of national operations, said that Mr Maliki had cancelled plans to sweep Baghdad’s Sadr City, the bastion of Hojatoleslam al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army militia, at the start of this week.
|McClatchy Newspapers (c/o) Teresita notes Sadr is trying to stave off a confrontation.||BAGHDAD, Iraq - Muqtada al Sadr,
the firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric whose Mahdi Army is arguably Iraq's
most powerful armed group, has ordered his followers to put down their
weapons temporarily, three of his aides told McClatchy Newspapers on
Analysts differed on the significance of the directive, which Sadr delivered in secret to his commanders two weeks ago in the southern city of Kufa. Some saw it as Sadr's way of distancing himself from rising sectarian violence, most of which has been blamed on his followers.
Others said the order was little more than an effort by Sadr to head off an offensive by American and Iraqi forces against his militia, which increasingly is seen as a shadow sectarian security force. Controlling many of Iraq's larger cities, the Mahdi Army uses its political hold on several government ministries to win new supporters.
Iraqi army troops clashed with Mahdi Army members last month in Diwaniya, and tensions have been rising with U.S. troops, who earlier this month detained Sadr supporters meeting in Najaf. American troops fought pitched battles with Sadr's forces twice in 2004. Both times, Sadr's forces took heavy casualties but the cleric survived, and his militia grew stronger.
Now many think the Mahdi Army controls security in much of Iraq through death squads and its infiltration and intimidation of Iraqi security forces. Sadr's political supporters are influential with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who won his post through the backing of Sadr, who controls the largest voting bloc in the parliament.
Analysts also think that Sadr is having trouble controlling his organization. Some militant members have criticized him for joining the political process last year, accusing him of straying from his pledge to reject the American-created government and rid Iraq of foreign forces. A senior U.S. military official said earlier this week that at least six former Mahdi Army leaders no longer answered to Sadr.
We get a surprisingly complex view of the battle for post-Saddam Iraq. Al-Qaeda trying to get into the political game, but hideously unpopular. The only United Front figure is Maliki, but he relies on Sadr for a lot of political support. American forces are both a liability and an asset to Maliki and the question is how they can act within this political minefield. Sadr comes off looking vulnerable. He is facing threats from internal challenges and must be careful of walking the tightrope. The US continues to see whether they can't blow him away on some politically acceptable "law and order" basis (they always describes Sadr's gangs in police language if you've noticed).
We don't know what's happening in Baghdad. But I hope this backgrounder helps.