Sistani Meets Muqtada; Ceasefire Taking Hold
Fighting continued Saturday in East Baghdad. A roadside bomb killed two US soldiers and wounded two others. Mahdi Army militiamen attacked a police station and the police were supported by US troops in returning fire. They killed at least one militiaman.
In contrast, Najaf began returning to normal on Saturday, as Mahdi Army militiamen made themselve scarce except at the shrine of Imam Ali. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani met with Muqtada al-Sadr and commended him for his cooperation in ending the crisis, which had plunged the Shiite shrine cities into fierce combat with the American military. Sistani had earlier declined to meet Muqtada, and the two had earlier made no secret of their disdain for one another. Reuters speculates that the meeting demonstrates Muqtada’s substantial increase in stature as a result of the American attempt to arrest him.
The US military announced that the Mahdi Army had been defeated. While this assertion is technically true, it is not an accurate assessment of the situation. The Mahdi Army is just Shiite slum boys with guns. They may have melted away in the face of US firepower, but they aren’t really gone. They just went home and stored their guns in the basement. They could come back out at any moment, which is a problem for the caretaker government.
Al-Hayat says that there may be a loophole in Iraqi law that will permit the caretaker government to back off trying to arrest Muqtada. Other Iraqi sources suggest that Mahdi Army fighters will be integrated into the police and army and an attempt will be made to convince the Sadrists to become an ordinary political party.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is talking seriously about attempting to bring back elements of the Baath Army, saying that dissolving it was a huge error.