We didn’t comment a few days ago when news reports indicated that joint operations of Iraqi and American troops were finally going after Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Tonight, the Associated Press tries to account for Maliki’s apparent change of heart:
Iraq’s prime minister has dropped his protection of an anti-American cleric’s Shiite militia after U.S. intelligence convinced him the group was infiltrated by death squads, two officials said Sunday.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s turnaround on the Mahdi Army was puzzling because as late as Oct. 31, he had intervened to end a U.S. blockade of Sadr City, the northeast Shiite enclave in Baghdad that is headquarters to the militia. It is held responsible for much of the sectarian bloodshed that has turned the capital into a battle zone over the past year.
Sometime between then and Nov. 30, when the prime minister met President Bush, al-Maliki was convinced of the truth of American intelligence reports which contended, among other things, that his protection of al-Sadr’s militia was isolating him in the Arab world and among moderates at home, the two government officials said.
“Al-Maliki realized he couldn’t keep defending the Mahdi Army because of the information and evidence that the armed group was taking part in the killings, displacing people and violating the state’s sovereignty,” said one official.
It is inconceivable that Maliki was ignorant of either the Mahdis’ role in sectarian violence or the fact that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors were unhappy with his protection of that Shia group. I think it is safe to assume that the very real threat that the U.S. might abandon its support for his government clarified Maliki’s thinking.