Muqtada and Fighters Defiant in Najaf
Luke Harding of the Guardian managed to get to Kufa after the big battle there. He writes:
‘ These days, Mr Sadr, a 30-year-old cleric whose father and uncle were both killed by Saddam, is a hard man to find. But his spokesman, Qais al-Kha’zali, told the Guardian that negotiations with the coalition to end the standoff in Najaf had broken down. “The Americans attacked us yesterday in Kufa using jet fighters,” he complained. “They are agitating the situation. Mr Sadr demands that the occupation should end all over Iraq. The Americans hate him because he refuses to bargain with them.” Mr Kha’zali said it was unreasonable for the coalition to demand the cleric disband his Mahdi militia without making concessions of its own. “They are demanding something and offering nothing,” he insisted. Mr Sadr had also not murdered a rival cleric, he said, something the coalition accuses him of. ‘
The equally intrepid Dan Murphy has written a fine profile of Muqtada al-Sadr and his father, Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, for the Christian Science Monitor. I don’t believe the Sadrist movement can be understood or appraised without reference to Sadiq al-Sadr’s movement of the 1990s, which Muqtada inherited, but most American observers and officials appear to be ignorant of this recent history.
With Spanish PM Zapatero announcing that Spanish troops have been withdrawn from Najaf and will be out of Iraq by late May, a security gap has opened up in the center-south. For the moment it has been filled by the US. But it is possible that the British will step into the breach. Doing so might give Whitehall more of a say in Iraq policy, and therefore more leverage in Washington, helping Tony Blair respond to the concerns of the British diplomatic community (see below).
But the British theorists of getting more deeply involved as a way of extricating London from Its Iraq dead end should consider that by going into Najaf they risk being on the front lines of any Shiite uprising that does occur. I suppose they think that they will anyway get caught in the crossfire of such a struggle in Basra, so they may as well have more of a say in the matter.