But just watch and see how many Democrats try and claim credit!
Moqtada Packs It In
Wall Street Journal
August 6, 2008
Good news out of Iraq is becoming almost a daily event: In just the past week, we learned that U.S. combat fatalities (five) dropped in July to a low for the war, that key leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have fled to the Pakistani hinterland, that troop deployments will soon be cut to 12 months from 15, and that Washington and Baghdad are close to concluding a status-of-forces agreement.
Now this: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. Coupled with the near-total defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, this means the U.S. no longer faces any significant organized military foe in the country. It also marks a major setback for Iran, which had used the Mahdi Army as one of its primary vehicles for extending its influence in Iraq.
The story, broken yesterday by the Journal's Gina Chon, marks the latest of serial defeats for Mr. Sadr, beginning in February 2007 when he was forced underground (reportedly to Iran) in anticipation of the surge of U.S. troops. More recently, the Mahdi Army was defeated and evicted from Basra and other southern strongholds by an Iraqi-led military offensive. The Mahdi Army capitulated without a fight from its Baghdad enclave of Sadr City. Now the young cleric will focus his group's efforts on politics and social work, perhaps while he pursues theological studies in Iran. He wouldn't be the first grad student in history with a tendency toward rabble-rousing.
In many respects, the story of the Mahdi Army's decline follows the same pattern as al Qaeda's: Not only was it routed militarily, it also made itself noxious to the very Shiite population it purported to represent and defend. It enforced its heavy-handed religious edicts, coupled with mob-like extortion tactics, wherever it assumed effective control. The overwhelming Shiite rejection of this brand of politics is another piece of good news from Iraq, as it means that Iraqis will not tolerate Iranian-style theocratic rule.
It is also an indication that Iraqi politics is developing in a healthy way. There was considerable anxiety that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as the leader of the Shiite-dominated Islamic Dawa Party, would practice a sectarian form of politics and toe a pro-Iranian line, particularly since it had long been headquartered in Tehran. Mr. Maliki's coalition initially included Mr. Sadr's loyalists, including several cabinet members.
Mr. Maliki had little choice but to make political alliances with Shiite sectarians and seek good relations with Iran, but he has also proven to be more than a sectarian politician and no Iranian pawn. Instead, he has turned out to be a muscular Iraqi nationalist, a stance that enjoys far greater popular support than many Western "experts" on Iraq believed possible. (Remember Senator Joe Biden and others who advised only last year that Iraq had to be divided into three parts?) It's thus no surprise that the more Mr. Sadr aligned himself with Tehran, the faster his popularity declined.
As with so much in Iraq, Mr. Sadr's sudden turn to moderation remains reversible. Breakaway factions of the Mahdi Army, aided by Iran, will surely launch fresh attacks on U.S. targets -- especially as U.S. and Iraqi elections near. That's all the more reason to regret the U.S. failure to arrest Mr. Sadr in 2004 for the murder the previous year of Imam Abdul Majid al-Khoei, widely believed to have been undertaken on Mr. Sadr's orders.
That mistake, like others the U.S. has committed in Iraq, can't be undone. But our recent and considerable successes can be, which is all the more reason to see our involvement in Iraq through to an irreversible victory. With Mr. Sadr's "retirement," we've taken another long stride in that direction.