Moqtada al Sadr apparently has ordered his supporters to attack American forces. This reversal — previously al Sadr had told his Mahdi Army militiamen not to resist in the face of the troop surge — comes after fighting between U.S. forces and the Mahdi Army in an area south of Baghdad. Indeed, al Sadr may be chasing events in an attempt to retain his credibility as he continues to hide out.
Al Sadr’s shift has plusses and minuses for the U.S. On the negative side, it likely means a spike in American casualties which could, in turn, erode what’s left of support for the war here at home. Thus far, the troop surge has succeeded in bringing down the level of violence in Baghdad even as American deaths have declined. That’s almost sure to change if the Mahdi Army steps up attacks against us. Moreover, al Sadr’s militias are strong in areas outside of Baghdad, where we have not surged. This means that our forces could now be stretched quite thin.
On the positive side, al Sadr’s change of heart suggests that the surge has been working and that its success threatens to marginalize him and his forces while strengthening the non-extremist elements in the Iraqi government. Moreover, the surge cannot succeed in the long term unless we deal with al Sadr and his forces. Thus, it’s probably best that we take him on now. Actually, the best would have been to kill him and crush his army back in 2003. In the current environment, we may not have a shot at al Sadr himself, since he may well choose to remain in Iran or to hide somewhere else.
Frankly, I fear our time as a full blown fighting force in Iraq is running out. Hammering the Shia militias during our remaining time improves, if only slightly, the prospects for Iraq in its post-American days.
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