Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Sadr Dilemma

Muqtada al-Sadr is giving Washington fits. The radical Shia cleric walked out of the faltering Iraq government, undermining the authority of Prime Minister Nouri Malaki. Sadr's Mahdi army is also believed to be instrumental in the sectarian violence plaguing Baghdad.

The US thought it had Sadr marginalized. It tried to divide the Shiites by persuading Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani to join a Kurd and Sunni governing coalition, effectively ostracizing Sadr. It didn't work. al-Sistani, probably realizing how badly that could backfire on him, opted for Shia solidarity and refused to play.

That effectively set the majority Shia against the minority Sunni and Kurds. The failed American gambit has provoked a backlash from Iraqi legislators angry at what they see as Washington's meddling. Sadr, his influence now bolstered by the collapse of this ploy, is returning to the Supreme Council where he's expected to renew demands for American troops to be withdrawn.

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