Shiite Leaders Negotiate with Muqtada
The London daily ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports that attempts to mediate between radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and the US are continuing in Najaf, even as there were further clashes on Monday between armed Shiite groups and Polish and Bulgarian troops in the other holy city, Karbala. The gunbattles came despite a ceasefire declared over the weekend in honor of the holy day of Arba’in.
It says that the mediators deny that any possibility of Muqtada going into exile in Iran has been broached. Likewise, they say, they have not brought up any dissolution of the Army of the Mahdi, Muqtada’s militia. Rather, they focused on reaching an understanding that the militia would obey the law and respect the institutions of the state, and would surrender its weapons to the Coalition forces. In return, the prosecution of Muqtada in connection with the murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei on April 10, 2003, would be turned over to Iraqi courts only once sovereignty was regained by Iraq on June 30.
Adnan al-Asadi, the number two man in the al-Da`wa Party (a longstanding Shiite group), has participated in the attempt at mediation. He said, “We have not arrived so far at a complete agreement. We expect that the Coalition will agree to a plan to resolve the issue through negotiations either today [Monday] or tomorrow [Tuesday].” He said he expected a positive response, and that the Americans had concurred with the dispatch of mediators in this case.
Al-Asadi said that he continues to stipulate that the US must approve the agreement announced by Najaf police chief Ali al-Yasiri, whereby Muqtada’s Army of the Mahdi has relinquished three police stations back into the hands of the police. The agreement said that US forces must remain outside the city of Najaf, because of its sanctity. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) spokesman Dan Senor denied knowledge of any such agreement.
Al-Asadi revealed that the agreement required Muqtada to order his militia to be law-abiding, in the course of his Friday prayers sermon.
A campaign has been launched with the al-Khoei family, which is extremly bitter toward Muqtada, to convince them to give up their demand that he be prosecuted immediately, and to let the process start rather in a few months, when Iraq is again an independent country [at least de jure].
Muhsin al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said that SCIRI and other groups were involved in the mediation effort. Al-Hakim said from Tehran, where he was visiting, “So far, five sessions have been held with a team appointed by [SCIRI leader] Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Discussions took place with al-Sadr’s officials.” He added, “We hope to arrive at an agreement in the near future.” He declined to reveal the demands being made by the two sides. He denied reports that Muqtada was seeking exile in Iran.
The NYT reports that the son of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Ridha, and Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim, have also been involved in negotiations with Muqtada.
Cole: I think it most unlikely that the terms of the negotiations reported above will be acceptable to the United states. Coalition spokesmen continued to talk about capturing or killing Muqtada. The tough talk may be intended to put pressure on him to surrender, but if so it is a miscalculation. Muqtada is a millenarian who thinks the world is about to end, and for the foreigners to discuss killing him might well drive him to seek the advent of the apocalypse through a call for more violence.
Meanwhile, 3,000 US troops are massing around Najaf and US military commanders are talking about invading the city and capturing or killing Muqtada al-Sadr.
The problem with this approach is that the Sadrists are a widespread social movement whose history goes back over a decade, and killing Muqtada will not end the movement. There are lots of potential successors to Muqtada. The chief characteristic of the Sadrists is their cheekiness. They were cheeky to Saddam, and they will be cheeky to Gen. Abizaid. They are desperately poor ghetto dwellers, they don’t like The Man, and they think they have nothing to lose in taking Him on. If the US military thinks this is a military problem with a military solution, they are just clueless. Someone on a discussion list said that Iraq is not Vietnam because this time the generals are in charge, and they know what they are doing. The US officers in Iraq are bright, dedicated persons, but they don’t know squat about Iraq (even Abizaid, a Lebanese Christian, is hardly an Iraq expert), and it also isn’t at all clear that they are setting the agenda. Going after Muqtada, for instance, almost certainly was the idea of the civilian politicians in the CPA and the Department of Defense. Once the mission was defined, the military wants to carry it out militarily. If they go into Najaf, there will be hell to pay (see below).