10 years ago
ABC News has broken a report about al Sadr fleeing Iraq to Tehran, Iran, where he has family. This is reported to have occurred two to three weeks ago, and would not be different behavior than other elements of the insurgency, whether Sunni or Shi’a. In The Enemy Reacts to The Surge, I discussed the fact that AQI had left Baghdad for the Diyala Province under orders from Al Masri. In The Surge and Coming Operations in Iraq, I pointed out that there were a large number of insurgents who were said to be heading towards Syria. The Mahdi army was ordered to lay low and avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. forces, and U.S. checkpoints were positioned, probably too late, in an attempt to catch the insurgents as they fled to the surrounding areas. The politicians, religious leaders and tribal leaders of the Diyala Province had requested that their province be subject to the same security plan as Baghdad.
The insurgents’ intention is to wait out the surge, and with the corruption of the Iraqi political scene with militia and Iranian influence, when the surge is finished, the Iraqi government may not be capable of continuing the security provided by the U.S. forces. According to one military official, Al Sadr is afraid that “he will get a JDAM dropped on his house.” But there may be more to the story than simply seeking safety in Iran. There are fractures in al Sadr’s political and militia operations, and it isn’t clear whether they will join the political process. However, the departure of al Sadr is not expected to be permanent.
A ragtag but highly motivated militia that fought U.S. forces twice in 2004, the Mahdi Army is blamed for much of the sectarian strife shaking Iraq since the Samara shrine was bombed by Sunni militants a year ago, and thus they have been targeted by the Baghdad security plan. Two key members of al Sadr’s political and military organization were killed last week, the latest of as many as seven key figures in the al Sadr organization killed or captured in the past two months. The deaths and captures came after al Maliki, also a Shi’ite, dropped his protection for the organization. Shi’ite leaders insist that the Shi’ite militias flourished because the U.S. and its allies could not protect civilians, and as I have pointed out numerous times, the force size from the cessation of conventional operations was inadequate. The charges are probably correct, although not the only reason that security was not forthcoming. Sectarian strife has been brewing for many years.
It remains to be seen what use the U.S. makes of this opportunity. As I have discussed before, the surge is not long or large enough to bring permanent security to Iraq, and it is dubious whether Iraqi security forces can purge itself of sectarian influences enough to step into the gap.
Taking al Sadr out early in the war and counterinsurgency would have been preferable, but destruction of his political and military machinery and marginalization of him and his influence might come in a close second in terms of its effect on pacification of Iraq.