From The Australian today: Sadr told: drop your guns and join us.
IRAQ'S national conference, charged with charting a course to democracy, yesterday urged rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to disband his Mehdi Army militia and join the mainstream political process. The conference voted to send a delegation to meet Sadr in the besieged holy city of Najaf as Iraq's hostage crisis worsened with the kidnapping of an American journalist.
Participants approved a proposal by a Sadr relative, Baghdad Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Hussein al-Sadr, who said: "There are inviolable conditions in civilised countries ... there is no place for armed militias. ... We must work together to convince Moqtada Sadr and the dear brothers in the Mehdi Army to transform (the militia) into a political party, whatever its leaning."
[Iraq's chief negotiator, Mouwaffaq] Al-Rubaie said he had proposed that al-Sadr's militia be disbanded and become a political movement.
And from a report last week:
But as [Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi] demanded that al-Sadr disarm his militia, Allawi left maneuvering room for the cleric himself. He repeated a longstanding invitation to al-Sadr to take part in elections due by the end of January.
It's bad enough that al-Sadr -- an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist -- is being treated as a reasonable being, but to offer him political power? Our soldiers are not supposed to be getting killed for al-Sadr's appeasement. This is the danger that came from quickly handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis. The handover did not appease al-Sadr and his thugs, who still consider us "occupiers" and the interim Iraqi government "U.S. puppets."
Worse still, we no longer have ultimate authority to pursue our security interests in Iraq. We have to ask permission of the Iraqis. Maybe they will let us; maybe they won't. It should never have been left up to them to decide, as evidenced by how al-Sadr is now being treated (though it must be noted that Bush also pursued an appeasing tack in April). A glimmer of hope that the Iraqis will allow (!) us to take out al-Sadr appeared in the first article:
Sporadic fighting continued in Najaf last night as US-led forces prepared for another offensive on the city. "A major assault by forces will be launched quickly to bring the Najaf fight to an end," Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said.
Then again, we've heard that before.
In today's TIA Daily, Robert Tracinski commented on the broader issue, "Democracy vs. Liberty in Iraq":
Recent events in Iraq show the folly of promoting "democracy" -- in the form of unlimited mob rule -- as the ideal political system for Iraq. At a conference gathered to decide on election rules, a mob of al-Sadr's sympathizers have demanded an end to military action against the Mahdi Army and seem to have succeeded in forcing yet another delay of Sadr's long-overdue demise. This kind of "democracy" will only serve to deliver Iraq to a new variant of tyranny: al-Sadr's Iranian-backed theocracy.
UPDATE I -- August 17: From The Australian today: Seven die as Sadr mission delayed.
Speaker after speaker decried the violence in Najaf and, on Monday, a party of Sadr loyalists showed up -- despite pledges to boycott the conference -- to chant their defiance.
There was a moment of stunned silence in the sometimes rowdy assembly when Sadr supporters started chanting a message of self-sacrifice that used to be dedicated to Saddam Hussein.
"With my soul, with my blood, I sacrifice for Iraq," the men shouted, pumping their fists and substituting the word 'Saddam' with 'Iraq'.
Many liberal delegates looked on in shock at the Shi'ites, who had suffered under Saddam, coming out with such a cry.[Emphasis added]
Some Shiites want to impose their own tyranny in place of Saddam's. What's shocking about that? Just because they were persecuted under Saddam's regime doesn't mean they're automatically going to embrace individual rights. A willingness to sacrifice themselves and others for an Islamist Iraq was to be expected from Islamic theocrats. Reminds me of this cartoon from April 2003 (same cartoon but added commentary here).
This has been coming for some time. The question now is will the new Iraqi government have to will to crush the Islamist theocrats and terrorists? Will they succeed where we failed?
UPDATE II -- August 18: Unfortunately this cartoon is turning out to be all too accurate. CNN reports today: Al-Sadr says militia will leave mosque.
Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced Wednesday his militia will leave the Imam Ali Mosque, after a threat by the government to "liberate" the holy site.
In a letter from al-Sadr's office in Baghdad, al-Sadr said he agreed to three demands made to him Tuesday night by a delegation from the conference -- that he and his forces leave the mosque, disband the Mehdi Army and "enter into the mainstream political process."[Emphasis added]
It remains to be seen how far al-Sadr will exploit the government's pandering, but it's clear is that our forces were used as a political tool to pose a threat to him. "Used" is the important word here. Consider what our forces were doing while al-Sadr was being appeased:
Heavy fighting continued in Najaf overnight and throughout the day. Marine Capt. Carrie Batson told CNN that militia have launched "sporadic attacks" on the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit forces and they "remain in a defense posture" in a cemetery near the mosque.
"Thus far, soldiers in the cemetery came under approximately 10 separate volleys [at least six rounds each volley] of mortar fire, along with sniper fire," Batson said. "After it was clear that the mortars weren't going to stop, we shot artillery at the mortar position in self-defense. There are no indications of damage to the shrine."
Over sixty mortar rounds are fired at our troops before they decide it's appropriate to take defensive measures. Then immediately afterward they are compelled to make clear that no harm was done to the shrine being used by the enemy as a shield. All this so a terrorist, Islamist cleric could be allowed to enter politics, thus legitimizing the possibility that Iraq could become another Iranian-style theocracy.
There's nothing good in any of this. In fact, this is a (if not the) political low-point in the Iraq war, though the groundwork for this surrender was laid many months ago. The Fallujah surrender was bad enough, but that happened when we still had military authority and could correct it. We have since forfeited that authority.
In an April 2003 news story, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated regarding an Iranian-style government in Iraq: "That isn't going to happen."
The problem now is that, because of the quick handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, the Defense Department no longer has a final say in the matter. The same article had a quote from President Bush that indicated a fatal flaw: "One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq. We will help that nation build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people."
In other words, if the Iraqis want terrorist al-Sadr to form a political party and influence the direction of the Iraqi government toward an Iranian-style theocracy, then so be it. That's "democratic." And our soldiers will be right there, dying to make it all possible.
Frankly, it's difficult to imagine John Kerry doing a worse job as president in regard to Najaf. How much worse could it be? I think President Bush is doing an overall better job of defending America than Kerry would -- I'm still inclined to vote for Bush -- but this whole episode is a stain on Bush's presidency. Keep in mind, this is the man who said on Sept. 20, 2001: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Yet today we are allowing an Islamist terrorist to officially become part of the new Iraqi government. Talk about flip-flops. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise since Bush has treated Yassir Arafat in a similar fashion. But it's nonetheless disappointing, particularly since our troops are at risk.
The only way to protect Americans -- and, coincidentally, good Iraqis -- is to bomb the Najaf mosque into a parking lot, and to announce that any building used for such purposes gets the same treatment. They chose to use their House of God as a House of War. The marching crowds agree. Admit the facts, and act accordingly. Continue aggressive investigations into mosques in America. And let those who will condemn the Americans choose their side openly.
Below is a cartoon from a time when we thought there had been a policy change to treat hostile enemy positions appropriately. A General Mattis was quoted as saying: "If they barricade themselves inside a mosque, we are not going to care about the mosque anymore than they do." So much for that. Now we're burying American soldiers who were killed around the Iman Ali shrine, which still stands along with the thugs inside.
UPDATE III -- October 4, 2004: From The New York Times: Militant Cleric Considers Entry Into Iraqi Politics.
The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has begun laying the groundwork to enter Iraq's nascent democratic process, telling Iraqi leaders that he is planning to disband his militia and possibly field candidates for office.
After weeks of watching his militia wither before American military attacks, Mr. Sadr has sent emissaries to some of Iraq's major political parties and religious groups to discuss the possibility of involving himself in the campaign for nationwide elections, according to a senior aide to Mr. Sadr and several Iraqi leaders who have met with him.