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Kill Muqtada al Sadr to salvage Iraq’s government

It’s frustrating when a smarter blogger beats me to the punch on a topic I’ve been thinking about, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Dafydd ab Hugh just posted an excellent think piece on the benefits of killing Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army. It’s not a short post, but it really made me rethink how we should tackle what’s going on in Iraq.
For starters, he sees the forces behind the current bloodletting differently than most western commentators. He doesn’t completely buy the “sectarian violence” meme as a catch-all explanation for the increase in deaths in Iraq. He looks at the country as a loose collection of competing tribes (many including both Shiite and Sunni members) engaging in gangland-style violence like we saw in New York some decades back:

I suspect the killing continues because a small but very determined group of people thinks the gang-war is “winnable,” and each person sees himself as the victor. It’s less like the Civil War and more like the Mafia wars of mid-20th-century New York City: those, too, went on for decades… yet at no time could one say that the Italian population of that city “demanded” such killings.
If the leadership of that small cadre which is carrying out the slaughters were to be removed (by any means necessary), I cannot imagine that the Shia and Sunni residents of Baghdad would pine for the good old days of death squads committing 100 murders a day.

Dafydd then steps into Prime Minister Maliki’s shoes and discerns why he hasn’t exactly been helpful to us in squashing al Sadr. It’s all about al Sadr’s 28 votes in the Iraqi parliament:

I believe Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would actually like to see the militias disarmed. Not because he’s a good guy; don’t mistake my point. Rather, I think Maliki reasons thus:

  1. I am the titular tribal warlord of Iraq.
  2. Yet I control no personal forces: the army and police belong to the state, not me personally; and I control none of the large militias.
  3. Now that I’m on top, it’s time to blow the whistle and end the game. If the militias would all just “softly and suddenly vanish away,” then there would be nobody who could challenge my military authority (except the infidels, and they don’t really care anyway).
  4. But I cannot actually go after the militias… because that would require me to crack down on Moqtada Sadr, and I desperately need his voting bloc to stay in power.

Then, the really brilliant analysis, which predicts the reaction of the rival Shiite militia, the Badr Organization:

I would suggest killing not just Sadr, but the number two and number three guys, all more or less simultaneously (within a few days of each other). This would leave the lower tier people wondering which of them would become the new leader.

If Sadr were killed, and if Maliki were clearly not involved, then what would the “28” do? I can’t see them allying with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), for they control the Badr Brigades. And they’re certainly not going to support a Sunni or a Kurd.
This leaves the Dawa Party as the only other powerful Shiite political party. The head of Dawa is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and his principal deputy is (ta da!) Nouri al-Maliki. Jaafari cannot be prime minister again; he was the one chucked out last time and is completely unacceptable to SCIRI, to the Sunnis, to the Kurds, and to the secularists.
So the only choice left for the 28 seats currently controlled by Sadr, in the event of his untimely demise, would be to continue supporting Maliki, as they have been doing all along.
Thus, were the Coalition to kill off Sadr, Maliki would still have the 28 votes of Sadr… but no Sadr sticking his hand up Maliki’s badonkadonk (eew) to work the PM’s mouth. Not only that, but with Mahdi in such distress, Maliki would have the green light to crack down hard on the Badr Brigades… the other Shiite party’s militia. After all, Mahdi would be out of commission for a while.
So we would get a “twofer” — the Mahdi Militia would be bereft of its leadership, leaving it to flop around like a beheaded snake; and the government of Iraq would likely move heavily against the Badr Brigades… and maybe even against the Mahdi Militia, once Maliki is sure of his power base in the absence of Muqtada Sadr.
Sometimes, when a situation has crystalized in a very unuseful position, the best thing we can do is vigorously shake the box: whatever we end up with will probably be better than what we have now.

Dang it, I wish I’d thought of that! I was about to post something along the “shaking the box” line of thinking, but I hadn’t even considered the twofer involving the Badr Brigades. I was merely thinking “at this point, what could killing al Sadr hurt?” Since the culture over there respects strength much more than reason and rational argument, I simply figured that killing this loathsome oxygen thief would remind the enemy of our willingness to vaporize them (a good thing in itself). I just didn’t take my analysis a step further. I’m glad Dafydd ab Hugh did.
Read the whole thing.

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