The Trouble With Sadr

Rich Lowry lists six reasons why Americans should die fighting Muqtada al-Sadr:

  1. That Maliki represents the lawfully constituted and internationally recognized government of Iraq and Sadr represents an outlaw militia;
  2. That the fighters Maliki controls—i.e., the security forces of the state of Iraq—work alongside American troops instead of blowing them up with Iranian-supplied munitions;
  3. That Maliki is working to create a stable Iraqi government that will be an (imperfect) ally of the United States, while Sadr is a sworn enemy of the United States;
  4. That Sadr's forces participated in the wanton killing of Sunnis that was a key accelerant of the civil war;
  5. That the Sunnis support what Maliki is doing, and to the extent they see him moving against Shia thugs, national reconciliation becomes more likely;
  6. That we have long been urging Maliki to take this sort of action against deadly Shia sectarians, even if we didn't like the particulars of how he went about it here.

Item six is absurd -- we should tilt against Sadr because we've urged such a tilt in the past? Better to stick to a five-point plan. On point four, yes Sadrist forces participated in sectarian killing of Sunnis, but so did Badr Brigade forces so this seems like an un-compelling reason to take sides in a JAM-ISCI throwdown. Point five seems extremely dubious -- reconciliation is the effort to get the different Iraqi factions to work out an agreement amongst themselves rather than fighting, having some factions engage in pitched battles with the Sadrist faction isn't a step toward reconciliation, it's evidence of the absence of reconciliation.

Point one is accurate, but pretty lacking in context. It's not as if Maliki is running some kind of even-handed drive against partisan militias -- he's turning the state security forces over to militias aligned with his government while cracking down on the party militia of one party. Meanwhile, that party was part of his government until the United States helped engineer their departure. Our beef with Sadr antedates the Maliki government and has no particular relationship to the parliamentary coalitions of the day.

Points two and three get to the heart of the matter. We oppose Sadr because Sadr opposes the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Indeed, at times he opposes it through violent means that lead to the death of our troops. But "killing people who oppose the U.S. military presence in Iraq" isn't a reasonable rationale for the U.S. military presence in Iraq. This is what's led Joe Klein to speculate that the anti-Sadr tilt is driven by our quest for permanent military bases. Sadr is an opponent of what we're doing in Iraq, but he doesn't have some larger conflict with the United States -- he's not plotting an invasion of Delaware, he's willing to sell oil on an open market, etc. -- and while his credentials as a liberal democrat are highly suspect, so are those of the people we work with in Iraq (and Saudi Arab, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, etc.) all the time. That's not to say we should partner-up with Sadr or wish him particularly well in his adventures, but it's just to reiterate the point that we could easily afford to adopt a posture of indifference to Iraq's internal political disputes and just go home.