Muqtada Emerges Strengthened Allawi

Muqtada Emerges Strengthened; Allawi calls for Dialogue

Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder argues from anecdotal evidence in Iraq that Muqtada al-Sadr has emerged from his battle with the Americans stronger than ever, despite the military defeat inflicted on his Mahdi Army.

According to ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Allawi called on Muqtada al-Sadr to resort to “the language of rational, civilizational dialogue.” Allawi said on Iraqi television, “The remedy for this problem is concord among the various sectors of the Iraqi people, through a central, civilizational dialogue that depends on respecting one another’s opinions. Without that we will return to the days of Saddam, and to days even darker than those.” He added that there was a necessity to employ “the language of rational, civilizational dialogue in order to prove victorious. This is what we hope of al-Sadr.” He added, “I had hoped that al-Sadr would resort to democratic methods through political work, and that he would mobilize the streets, the people, the channels and points of view that he needs.” He added, “We have said repeatedly that this situation is transitional, and will be followed by a phase of elections. At that time, both the people and the street will put in their two bits and will elect the leadership that they want, whether it be al-Sadr or another.” He expressed his sorrow that “Affairs have worked out in a way that is not correct and does not serve the iraqi people.” He affirmed, “The Iraqi government will act in accordance with laws, and will not permit anything outside the law . . . Our work will concentrate on the need to respec the law and its sovereignty in Iraq . . . We will not permit any militia outside the framework of the state and of official institutions, internal security forces, and national police and army.” Allawi called for strong United Nations involvement in Iraq, and for its authorized multinational force to include more Arabs and Muslims.

The “dialogue of civilizations” is a project of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Its use shows that Allawi is attempting to put himself in the framework of reformist Shiism so as to engage with Muqtada al-Sadr, whose ideas are closer to those of Iran’s hardliners. But in Iraq, it is the hardliners who are at a disadvantage, for the moment, with regard to governmental power.

I don’t see how Allawi can expect Muqtada to engage in a rational dialogue if he has been excluded from running for parliament on arbitrary grounds. My common sense rule is that if you can’t do something in the United States, Bremer shouldn’t be allowed to do it in Iraq. There are no grounds that I can see that would prevent Muqtada from running for office in the US (he hasn’t actually been convicted of any felony). If you want to draw the Sadrists into rational dialogue, let them run for office and learn to trade horses.

But it is just possible that Allawi’s remarks were intended to signal to Muqtada that if he disbands his militia, he can hope to stand for parliament and perhaps even attain high office. If so, Allawi is already distancing himself from Bremer’s decree on Monday making Muqtada ineligible to run for office.

A reader challenged me on the comparison to Lebanon and the idea that the Sadrists would trade horses in parliament. I replied:

The Baghdad government will have an oil income. In the past, East Baghdad has been stiffed and not given its fair share. Everything from sewerage to schools are substandard. Sadrist representatives from East Baghdad

will want to prove they can bring home that patronage. To get it, they will have to persuade Kurds and Sunnis to support them.

Hizbullah trades horses with the Phalangists all the time. Lebanon is a fair comparison to Iraq.

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