Washington observers are worried that the return to Iraq of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr will forestall a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement. The SOFA specifies that the remaining 47,000 US troops be out of Iraq by the end of this year. The military-industrial complex wants to find a way of keeping thousands of US troops in Iraq past that deadline.
Sadr has demanded that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki honor its pledges to end the US military presence, and has talked about having some of his militiamen re-arm. Any small US force in Iraq would be at risk from Sadrist attacks, since that important political tendency among Shiites is strongly anti-imperialist. Al-Maliki only won a second term because of the momentum he gained from Sadr’s endorsement last September.
And, it certainly seems that Sadr is settling in. Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that Sadr met Thursday with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. They discussed Sadr’s recent demands that the Iraqi government guarantee housing to each Iraqi, and that it share out to every citizen dividends from the oil revenue (a plan floated during direct American rule in 2003-2004, based on Alaska’s experience; Sadr probably got it from that American discourse and so has come under Alaskan influence). Sistani is said to have agreed with Sadr on the desirability of these steps.
Sadr then announced that he was settling in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, and would not leave or return to Iran.
Those who dream of a long-term US troop presence in Iraq not only will have to deal with the opposition of millions of Sadrists; but Grand Ayatollah Sistani may not like the idea very much, either. He has spoken repeatedly of his responsibility to push for Iraqi independence from foreign troops. Just as he is not so far apart from Sadr on social justice issues, he may not differ a great deal with Muqtada on the desirability of a US departure. He was said in 2008 to have urged Iraqis not to help provide food to US bases.
A Sadr-Sistani rapprochement on key issues would lead to powerful pressure on the al-Maliki government and its Da’wa (Islamic Mission) Party.
A sizeable US base after Jan. 1, 2012, could well be a casualty of the two making up.