Sadr must be stopped for Bush plan to have chance of succeeding

Job No. 1 for the additional U.S. troops in Baghdad comes Feb. 1: dispatch Muqtada al-Sadr to whatever fiery corner of hell is reserved for his militia-supporting, violence-inciting, hatred-spewing self.

Job No. 1 for the additional U.S. troops in Baghdad comes Feb. 1: dispatch Muqtada al-Sadr to whatever fiery corner of hell is reserved for his militia-supporting, violence-inciting, hatred-spewing self.

That action could have the most immediate change in the situation in Iraq. So long as Sadr and his Mahdi Army operate unfettered, the promises of President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to craft diplomatic and political solutions are nothing more than rhetoric.

Of course, given the track record of former Islamic radicals of squirreling themselves away in some hidey-hole once they know that their sixes have been painted by U.S. weapons, don't expect the Shi'a cleric to be sticking around the eastern Baghdad area named for his family.

In his speech Wednesday night on the "new strategy" in Iraq, Bush said that "Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods -- and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."

If this proves true (and excuse me for expressing more than a touch of skepticism about the truthful nature of Bush's proclamations on Iraq), Maliki's decision is a dangerous gamble -- if life in Iraq for a U.S. ally can get any more dangerous.


Even though Maliki and Sadr are both Shi'a, the hope appears to be that Maliki's connection to the modern secular world and his revulsion with Sadr's tactics will combine with a very strong instinct for self-preservation to yield some good result for all the Iraqi people.

It's possible, I suppose. As a former naval aviator friend of mine offered by quoting Boswell's "Life of Johnson": "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Maliki faces a lose-lose proposition of the gravest order. If he doesn't turn on the Shiite radicals in Sadr City and demonstrate an even-handedness in how the government will approach its many challenges, the United States will leave (or so said the president Wednesday night), and Maliki's days on Earth will be numbered. If he does turn on the fundamentalist Shiites -- the equivalent of Bush turning on religious conservatives -- Maliki risks losing power and may well still be killed.

Let us not forget that as recently as October, Maliki ordered the release of one of Sadr's senior aides, who had been arrested a day earlier by U.S. troops on suspicion of participating in kidnappings and killings.

The dynamic between Maliki and Sadr isn't the only problematic one. There's still the Iranian-Syrian dynamic, which prompted the president's proclamation that "we will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

The only reason that either country would want U.S. success in Iraq is that it might induce the Western infidels to leave sometime in the next five to 10 years.

The Iranians are Persians, not Arabs. The animosity between the two is long-standing. Middle Eastern Arabs will go back to hating the Iranians as soon as the situation calms down -- it's the old "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" syndrome. And this historical hatred will reignite, particularly if Sadr is killed and the Shiite Iranians no longer have him as their boy in Baghdad.

Iranian diplomatic assistance will happen only to the extent that the United States cuts Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad some slack on his nukes, and this administration has made clear that that isn't happening. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated it yet again last week at a news conference before plodding up the Hill to testify before the House.


"If the government in Tehran wants to help stabilize the region, as it now claims, then it should end its support for violent extremists who destroy the aspirations of innocent Lebanese, Palestinians and Iraqis, and it should end its pursuit of nuclear weapons," Rice said.

Before the Syrians sign on to the diplomacy train, they will want a freer hand in "shaping" the leadership of Lebanon and will want more pressure on the Israelis to give up the Golan Heights.

Supposing that that administration actually agreed to this, the United States would be seen as selling out both the Lebanese and the Israelis.

See why it's easier for Bush to avoid any kind of diplomatic discussion with either of them?

It remains to be seen whether Maliki will be able to accomplish what Bush has never even attempted here, in a functioning democracy more than 200 years old: Turn his back on his base in the interest of the greater good.

Jill "J.R." Labbe is deputy editorial page editor of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram.

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