Why the campaign against Sadr?
John Nagl characterizes the current campaign against Moqtada al-Sadr in today's sponsored open forum at the Washington Post. Nagl isn't distracted by the nonsense assertions, so prevalent in the press, that the current campaign against the militias in Iraq is actually directed from Teheran to impress upon Washington how they can turn on and turn off violence like water from the kitchen faucet. Instead he goes right to heart of what we should be worried about: executing the plan right.
Detroit: Lt. Col. Nagl, as an American trying to make sense of Iraq I find it troubling that the administration and the media to a great extent try to simplify the relationships and polarization that exists in Iraq. Good vs. evil hardly can be the subtext to this story. It is my understanding that all political groups of any size have their own militias, not just Sadr. Is this true? If so, what of the joyous recent pronouncements from Rice that the Iraq government is banning militias? Why are they moving on him now, and what is the implication given the upcoming elections?
Lt. Col. John Nagl: Detroit
Iraq is indeed a complicated place; I think General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did a good job last week of laying out just how fragile the progress we've seen over the past year still is, and how many parties have an interest in the future direction of Iraq. There are in fact several political groups with affiliated militia movements, although Sadr's is among the most worrisome, and has the potential to significantly affect the course of the elections this fall. In this light, I think the decision by the Government of Iraq (GoI) to move against not just Sadr's militia, but all of them, is a step in the right direction. How well it is executed remains to be seen.
This is a campaign for the mastery of the Shi'ite communities in Iraq. And there are two aspects to it. The first is to destroy the power of Iran over the militias and extend the power of the Government of Iraq over them; and second, to reflect both the results of the Surge against the Sunnis and the campaign against the Shi'ite militias in the coming elections. In other words, it is part of a campaign to rid Iraq of enemy influence. Once we accept this characterization as the true picture of events then the next question necessarily becomes, how to do it right.
One essential component to getting it right is for Washington to get behind the strategy. Right now, two out of three Presidential candidates are embarked in a bidding war for who can withdraw the most brigades the fastest after 2009. This may happen as a consequence of victory. But it in an of itself a withdrawal will not produce victory.
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