Reuters is reporting that several members of the Interim Governing Council met Saturday with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, seeking a compromise that might end the violence in the south. Naseer Chaderji, a liberal Sunni nationalist, said, “Moqtada has regard in Iraq, mainly through his father. But he cannot be allowed to achieve his political goals through violence. The council members told him this and at the same time acknowledged that improving the south’s standards of living was a legitimate demand. ”
al-Hayat says that Adil Abdul Mahdi, the representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had proposed that Muqtada dissolve the Army of the Mahdi, and allow its men to be melded into the new Iraqi national army, in return for which the arrest warrant against him would be suspended by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Al-Hayat reports that US Viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, rejects such negotiations, saying that Muqtada faces three possibilities: He can surrender, he can be arrested by US troops, or he can be killed resisting that arrest. I’d just suggest to Jerry that he be careful what he wishes for. Muqtada’s family has been standing up to that kind of bullying talk for decades, when it issued from the Baath, and they are not the surrendering kind. If the US arrests Muqtada, it can only do so by desecrating among the most sacred shrines in Islam. If you want to see waves of attacks on American interests from Beirut to Tehran and from Kabul to Manama, just go ahead. And once the US has Muqtada, that will simply provoke daily demonstrations in all the southern cities demanding his release. If the US kills Muqtada, his followers will likely go underground and wage a long-term guerrilla war against the US, of the sort Mr. Bremer has failed to put down in the Sunni Arab areas after a year of trying. My advice to him (not that he is good at taking advice) is, if Chaderji can get him a deal, to take it. Bremer will be back in Washington on July 1, but the Iraqis and the US troops and all the rest of us will have to live with the results of his failed policies and his arrogant obstinacy for the next decade.
Meanwhile, an AP reporter on the ground is convinced that there is a groundswell of support for Muqtada in Kufa, East Baghdad, and elsewhere, as evidenced by the throngs at Friday prayers at Sadrist mosques on Friday.
The Army of the Mahdi announced a three-day ceasefire to honor the religious commemoration of Arba’in (since the battles with the Coalition are no longer going their way, this move is also a face-saving device). The US have also agreed to freeze their military operations in the cities of the south, to allow further negotiations. Another negotiator, Jawad al-Maliki of the Shiite al-Da`wa Party, said he had given a letter to Muqtada from the CPA. The CPA spokesman denied knowledge of any such mediation attempt. Al-Maliki insisted that the document demanded that Muqtada dissolve the Army of the Mahdi, respect national institutions and laws, and that it withdraw from public buildings and allow order to be restored.
ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that one Shiite notable who has visited Iran, has been putting out feelers to Iran about the possibility of Muqtada going into exile there.