Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Al-Sadr flees Iraq

In a story first reported by ABC News, American officials say they think Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, has left Iraq, moving to Iran ahead of the expected "surge" in U.S. forces in Baghdad.

A lot of people are pointing to this as proof that the surge is the right strategy, that it's scaring our opponents because they know it will be effective.

I think that's simplistic. Yes, I'm sure he felt that he might be specifically targeted in the upcoming Baghdad campaign, so it was prudent to leave the area. But I think his departure is less a comment on the surge itself than it is on the growing fractures within the Mahdi Army and (more crucially) the withdrawal of Iraqi government protection. If the Iraqi government was still backing him he wouldn't fear an increased American presence, just like he hasn't feared it very much up until now. Forcing the Iraqi government to show it's serious about reining in its extremists was the second and must-win prong of the "surge" effort. So Sadr's disappearance is a positive comment on that aspect of the new strategy, not on the military surge itself.

Just to play devil's advocate, there's also a more pessimistic interpretation available: that al-Sadr is being sent out of the country with the Iraqi government's blessing just to get him out of the way while the heat is on. In other words, it's a way to protect him without appearing to protect him. The key thing to watch for is what happens to the Mahdi Army in al-Sadr's absence, and what happens to al-Sadr when (not if) he returns.

Speaking of the surge, the House today had a contentious debate on a resolution opposing the troop increase. All 435 members were given five minutes to speak, one reason the vote isn't scheduled until Friday. Democrats talked about sending soldiers to die refereeing a civil war; Republicans warned of undercutting the President, emboldening the enemy and darkly described the dire consequences of failure there.

It was a good, strong debate, though heavily marked by partisan posturing -- including an effort by some Republicans to shift the debate entirely away from the resolution and Iraq.

In a formal letter to GOP colleagues, Reps. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.) and John Shadegg (Ariz.) encouraged lawmakers to avoid discussing the resolution and focus instead on a wider war against Islamic radicals.

"This debate should not be about the surge or its details," they wrote. "This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose."

Those two worthys notwithstanding, this is a debate that was long overdue. But in the end the resolution is expected to pass. And that's the important thing. Bush should get his surge -- and if the Iraqi government keeps playing ball, it might even work. But Congress needs to be on record stating its position on the war. If Bush succeeds, he can have his way with a chastised Congress; but if he fails, the resolution is an important first step toward eventually pulling the plug on the whole adventure.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dem leadership is already pulling the plug on support for the troops. Their Resolution says 'we support you," but we don't support your mission. And we are NOT supportive of sending you any additional help that your Generals believe is necessary in order to be successful in this new strategy. That is truly pathetic. BTW, you would never see Republicans doing such a thing when our troops are in harm's way.

2/14/2007 1:47 PM  

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