As Shiite reprisals continue in the aftermath of the Sadr City bombing, the deadliest of the war, the man who's looking to be the most well-positioned to take over Iraq in the aftermath of the civil war has just made his first move:
The wreaking of vengeance unfolded while a powerful parliamentary bloc loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr threatened to boycott the government if Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki attends a meeting with President Bush scheduled for Wednesday in Jordan. The legislators said the American presence was the root cause of the spiraling violence in Iraq.
But it was Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, that Sunni residents blamed for the attacks today. From morning until afternoon, at least four mosques were attacked in a single mixed neighborhood in the capital. Two were completely destroyed, and at least five Sunnis were killed and 10 wounded, an Interior Ministry official said. Iraqi security forces were absent, unwilling or unable to stop the gunmen.
While miltia loyal to Sadr continue plundering the country and burning people alive, Sadr himself is playing a long game. He openly distances himself from the militia committing the worst of the violence, calls for peace between the two sects, asks rival Sunni clerics to deliver fatwas against sectarian murder, and now this, threatening to pull out of the government if Maliki meets with Bush. Sadr has championed a cause that most Iraqis can get behind (if opinion polls there are to be believed), opposing the occupation of Iraq. He's set up a situation where, if Maliki goes forward with the meeting, he can practically force new elections; and if Maliki does not, he's in nominal control of the government. The fact that the meeting is scheduled to take place in Jordan already shows how unstable and lost Iraq is; Sadr's gambit shows who's in charge. And even he cannot stop his forces from engaging in revenge killings and fighting what he perceives to be the true enemy (though I think this may be something of a pose).
It's a sad day when the world's only superpower can get strategically boxed in by a firebrand cleric with little experience in political affairs. We need to come to the realization that Iraq is finished as an imperial project. If we cannot stop al-Sadr from getting the upper hand, we can't do anything. Chuck Hagel writes a piercing op-ed for the Washington Post this morning, and he dares to say what nobody else has:
There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.
Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.
The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.
We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.
That is clear and unambiguous truth on what is happening over there. It's about as honest an op-ed as you'll see from a politician. Chuck Hagel and I disagree on a great many things, but on the defining issue of the day, he has been honorable and clear-headed, and his call for redeployment is purposeful and strong. He joins others on the Democratic side who've already sounded this call, and I expect there to be others on the Republican side to join him. Iraq has this week moved past partisanship, and the partisans who still argue for it are completely out of step with the American people.
Unfortunately, the nation is currently led by a man who continually boxes himself in with his rhetoric and stubborn attitude, and allows the most shallow of rivals, in this case Muqtada al-Sadr, to outwit him. The only way to win this game is to stop playing, but a petulance masked as competitiveness will force that solution off the table. Someone better than this President will have to come along and put a stop to this madness.