Looks the the Iraqi Army has taken the city back from the militia, and that’s got Muqtada al-Sadr really angry. The only problem for Sadr? Iran seems to be backing Iraq’s moves, and Sadr has always been under the thumb of Iran.
Mr. Sadrâ€™s stock has recently fallen in Iranian eyes, the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, on Saturday expressed his governmentâ€™s strong support for the Iraqi assault on Basra. He even called the militias in Basra â€œoutlaws,â€ the same term that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has used to describe them.
â€œThe idea of the government in Basra was to fight outlaws,â€ Mr. Qumi said. â€œThis was the right of the government and the responsibility of the government. And in my opinion the government was able to achieve a positive result in Basra.â€
Does this signal that a strong relationship between Iraq and Iran is inevitable? Or is it simply a rebuke of Sadr to make sure he doesn’t get too big for his britches?
Whatever the case may be, Sadr’s threatening to end the cease fire…
Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare â€œwar until liberationâ€ against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.
But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force, especially given that his militiaâ€™s actions in Basra followed a pattern seen again and again: the Mahdi militia battles Iraqi government troops to a standstill and then retreats.
Here’s the thing…I don’t think an isolated Sadr is necessarily a good thing. After all, he probably has political aspirations and if the current Iraqi government doesn’t deliver real change in the country, he could fill a void…”democratically.” Why is this not necessarily a good thing? Well, this guy is studying to be an Ayatollah in Iran…so it’s unlikely he’d be interested in a secular Iraqi government.
And to that point…
The events in Basra, in contrast with the Mahdi Armyâ€™s continued fighting in Sadr City, renewed questions about where the Sadrist movement stands in Iraqâ€™s unstable political landscape. While his faction has often played the spoiler in Baghdadâ€™s Shiite political structure, his followers also represent the poor and disenfranchised, who were battered under Saddam Hussein, making it difficult for the government to write them off.
So Sadr is seen by many as a “man of the people,” and if history has taught us anything, never discount the power of the underdog in a democracy…especially a fledgling democracy.
More as it develops…