April 6, 2008

Tensions are very high in Iraq since the Maliki government decided to attack the oil rich city of Basra. Now he's issued an ultimatum to Sadr:

In an interview broadcast on Monday, Maliki singled out the Mehdi Army by name for the first time and ordered it to disband. "Solving the problem comes in no other way than dissolving the Mehdi Army," Maliki told U.S. network CNN. "They no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mehdi Army."

Sadr has said he'll leave the decision up to the clerics:

Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered on Monday to disband his militia if the highest Shi'ite religious authority demands it, a shock announcement at a time when the group is the focus of an upsurge in fighting.

The news came after Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who launched a crackdown on Sadr's Mehdi Army late last month, ordered the cleric to disband his militia or face exclusion from the Iraqi political process.

It was the first time Sadr has evoked dissolving the Mehdi Army, whose black-masked fighters have been principle actors throughout Iraq's five-year-old war and the main foes of U.S. and Iraqi forces in widespread battles over recent weeks.

This is pretty wild to say the least. If Sadr disbands the militia it will splinter off into many different violent factions. Sadr has played the situation pretty well up to this point and has many thousands of soldiers at his fingertips so I kind of agree with KDrum.

Kevin Drum says:

But if I had to guess, I'd say that Sadr would be doing this only if he felt pretty confident that no order to disband will be forthcoming. That would be a tacit approval of keeping JAM armed and intact, which in turn would be a pretty effective answer to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's calls for Sadr to disband his militia and lay down his arms. Maliki said yesterday that political parties maintaining militias wouldn't be allowed to take part in October's elections — an announcement pretty clearly aimed solely at Sadr — but he'll be unable to make that stick if Sistani doesn't take his side. Sadr and JAM could easily come out of this stronger than before.

Or maybe this is all a big nothing. Maybe no ruling is seriously being pursued, and maybe the clerics will continue to stay out of internal Iraqi politics. But it's an interesting game of cat and mouse being played out right now.

This is not a good spot for Petraeus to walk into Congress with. This situation is ready to explode.

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