Pulling out the stops

Pulling Out the Stops:

Well, al-Sadr proves to be braver than I expected. When he withdrew to Najaf, it looked to me like he was responding to the elders by going to negotiate. It appears, instead, he's decided to adopt Muhammed's own strategy, which is to come to conqueor.

He's reported to have taken control of the Shrine of Ali, as well as several government buildings. It's a bold play: US forces have in the past been forbidden from striking the Shrine, and probably will continue to be forbidden to do so to avoid inflaming Shi'a sentiment. It therefore makes an excellent headquarters. Furthermore, to the Shi'ite Moqtada al-Sadr's revolt must look rather like the end of the Hijira and the conquest of Mecca.

The big question is the Ramadi attacks. Fox is reporting that the forces are "thought to be" loyal to al-Sadr. That seems unlikely on its face. Ramadi is upriver from Fallujah, toward the Syrian border. It's in the Sunni Triangle and, when in 1999 Moqtada's father was killed by assassins, it's the place Saddam shipped captured dissidents to be held and questioned pending execution. Shi'ites loyal to the al-Sadr family are in short supply there.

That's something to watch, then--if the reports prove true, it's a big problem because it means either that (a) al-Sadr has succeeded in unifying, to some degree, Sunni and Shi'ite opposition to the Coalition, or (b) that the Sunni opposition is willing to allow his fighters to move freely in their region for some other cause. The first is unlikely, as al-Sadr hasn't proven popular even among most Shi'ites. The second, though, is not entirely unlikely. The most likely "other" cause is this: that Iran and Syria have come to agreement on the need to derail a free Iraq. They could be using their proxy forces, both Shi'ite and Sunni, to attack the Coalition in concert. These attacks "to the rear" have been expected, to relieve the insurgents trapped in Fallujah, but the scope of them is surprising.

If the reports prove false, the possibility of an overaching alliance of our enemies in Iraq lessens somewhat. Nevertheless, the scale of the uprising, and the surprise with which it was achieved, are worth noting. A serious response is needed, to crush the enemy forces in the field. More, however, we need to try to capture what leaders and documents we can, to see if this is indicative of a foreign alliance. If it's that, we've got some other work to do--either convincing Syria and Iran that their interests require them getting out of Iraq, or making them do so.

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