Muqtada Plans Political Party
AP reports that the young Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to cease fighting American and Coaltion troops and Iraqi police. He plans, his aides say, to have the Sadr movement contest the forthcoming elections to parliament.
Al-Hayat argues that Muqtada’s decision was a compromise between hawks and doves within the Sadr movement. The hawks want continued anti-American action, whereas the doves want to seek political power at the ballot box. Muqtada decided to favor the doves at this juncture, in part, it says, because the Najaf debacle demonstrated to him that other significant Shiite political forces might well attempt to cut him out of political power.
That is, if I understand the argument, the al-Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq could jointly dominate parliament if the Sadrists boycott the elections, and could then use their governmental power to harm the Sadrists (as Allawi had done in Najaf, in alliance with local Najaf notables and with SCIRI). Unlike Fallujah, where the whole town rallied against the Marines, Muqtada’s men were largely deserted and despised by the Najafis, and so could be massacred by the US, unlike the Fallujah guerrillas. Muqtada saw that he could be effectively and devastatingly isolated, and decided that participation in parliamentary politics would actually strengthen his position.
On the other hand, he had to appease the hawks, and so is arguing that they should not have to disarm, and should be allowed to keep their weapons.
The NYT’s Eric Eckholm is very good on these developments, as well, today. He says that the Sadrists want to keep their guns, arguing that they are private property and that most America families have guns at home. He says that the Allawi government might allow the Mahdi Army men to keep their rifles, but wanted rocket-propelled grenades turned in. Eckholm writes:
‘ Sheik Bakhabi declined to describe the two sides’ positions but said, “If we gave our rocket-propelled grenades to the government, but then they broke their promises, we couldn’t get them back again.”
In Sadr City on Monday, armed fighters were seldom visible on the streets, but there was little doubt who was in control. When a stranger shows up, a neighborhood captain of the Sadr organization quickly offers a challenge. A signed note from a militia official or a local tribal leader is usually enough to pass muster. Posters everywhere depict Mr. Sadr. ‘