Allam: Chalabi in Sadr City

The intrepid Hannah Allam of the McClatchy news service has more on the visit of Ahmad Chalabi to Sadr City to present his condolences to the slain Sadrist aide Nuri al-Riyadh, killed in Najaf last weekend . Highlights:

‘ Believe what you will about Chalabi being a has-been (or worse); precious few other Iraqi politicians can sail into Sadr City with foreigners in tow and receive ironclad guarantees of safety from the feared Mahdi Army. The militiamen greeted him with embraces, just a day after Sadr issued a statement that discouraged the targeting of Iraqis unless they have helped the occupation.

You might wonder, as I do, how Chalabi, the onetime Pentagon darling who fell out of American graces, the man who ushered U.S. forces into Iraq, the secular intellectual with dubious associates around the globe, is able to preserve such close ties to the Shiite Islamist, anti-American Sadr movement. We might never know the full story.

Critics will say that Chalabi’s trip to Sadr City amounted to grandstanding; supporters will counter that it’s about time an Iraqi official, any Iraqi official, dropped in to see firsthand the suffering of Sadr City’s embattled residents. Whatever the case, I was just grateful to tag along and finally be able to soak up the dizzying sights of Sadr’s sprawling Baghdad stronghold without the usual wrangling with local militia commanders or U.S. military embed coordinators. ‘

Despite the security pledges given Chalabi and his party by the Mahdi Army, the trip was harrowing. Allam writes:

‘ We asked Ali what Sadr City residents wanted from the Iraqi government.

“Water, electricity, rations,” came the quick reply. “Where is the future? From Saddam’s time to now, what future do we have?’

We asked Ali what the residents sought from Sadr himself.

“We want him to get rid of the occupation,” Ali said. He added that he hasn’t yet fought alongside the Mahdi Army, but wouldn’t hesitate to take up arms if Sadr issued the call.

“Of course I would go,” Ali said. “Who is defending Iraq except him?”

During the drive back to Chalabi’s compound I busied myself with taking photos from the tinted windows of our armored SUV. At one point, Sahar nudged me.

“I don’t want to frighten you,” she said, “but I’ve counted seven IEDs on this road so far. Look, you can even see the wires coming out.” . . . ‘

Read the whole thing.

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