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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sadr City Update

The Mahdi Army in Sadr City are not disarming. Seems our man Allawi has backed out of his end of a peace negotiation reached just yesterday, fearing its restrictions on American autonomy. Also looks like Muqtada's announcement that he would disarm the militia and enter politics brought home an unpleasant reality to Allawi, leading him away from the negotiation table and perhaps back to shows of force. We'll see.

One thing is certain. Muqtada's popularity has only grown from the uprising, whereas Allawi's has suffered (and was never strong to begin with). Tomorrow morning's NY Times:

Talks to disarm hundreds of insurgents in the roiling Sadr City ghetto in Baghdad collapsed Tuesday, after a tentative peace pact was abruptly canceled by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Leaders of the Mahdi Army, the rebel force led by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and two well-placed Iraqi sources said an agreement had been reached late Monday that called for the disarming of the rebel force and a halt in American military operations in Sadr City.

Mahdi Army commanders and other Iraqi sources said Tuesday that Dr. Allawi backed out of the agreement on Tuesday morning.

The failure of negotiations raised the prospect of more violence from Mr. Sadr's Shiite insurgency, meaning the Iraqi government may not be able to direct its full political and military resources to quelling the continuing Sunni insurgency in other parts of the country.[...]

Mr. Nasiri said he had been told by one of the government's negotiators, Qassim Daoud, the minister of state, that Dr. Allawi had objected to the restrictions placed on Americans soldiers operating in the area. Under the agreement, the Americans would be limited to performing reconstruction work; anything more aggressive than that would require the permission of the Iraqi government.

Dr. Allawi could not be reached for comment.[...]

But an Iraqi source said Dr. Allawi had decided to take a harsher approach toward Mr. Sadr and the Mahdi Army, possibly including the use of military force. The source said Dr. Allawi appeared to be motivated by disappointment with the agreement in Najaf, which ended the bloodshed there but left the Mahdi Army intact and made Mr. Sadr stronger than ever, in the eyes of many Iraqis.

In addition, the Iraqi source said, Dr. Allawi had recently come under intense pressure from Shiite political parties that fear that the entry of Mr. Sadr into the political mainstream could diminish their own potential success at the polls. Those groups would prefer that Mr. Sadr be eliminated, the Iraqi source said.

The groups include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which was long based in Iran and which has close ties to Ayatollah Sistani, and Dawa, a prominent religious movement. Such established organizations tend to see Mr. Sadr as an upstart.

The Iraqi source said it was possible that Dr. Allawi's intention was to kill or capture Mr. Sadr, in hopes of striking a death blow to his increasingly popular movement, which has the support of many poor Shiites and of 150 imams around the country. He wants to humiliate Moktada," the source said of Dr. Allawi. "He needs a victory."

Sistani? Is this Iraq source insinuating that Allawi will be crushing Sadr on behalf of the Shiite religious leadership? Why does that ring a little hollow to me?

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