Cutting and running from Sadr City

The Iraqi prime minister just ordered an end to the investiture of Sadr City. We’re complying.

It’s over.

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy for Iraq is now obviously a dead letter.

In a showdown between the U.S. Army and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Prime Minister of Iraq sided with Moqtada, and we are obeying his orders and backing down. PM al-Maliki thinks the presence of U.S. forces in Iraqi cities is fueling violence, and he’d like to see them withdrawn to bases in the countryside.

Let’s review the bidding:

1. The Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr’s private militia &#8212 the same outfit that we fought house-to-house in Fallujah Najaf &#8212 kidnapped an Iraqi-born U.S. soldier a week ago.

2. Moqtada is a minister Moqtada’s nominee is health minister in the Iraqi government, and his party is one of the three that make up the ruling coalition.

3. In response, our troops invested Sadr City, the huge Shi’a slum where Moqtada has his power base, looking for the kidnapped soldier and for one of Moqtada’s lieutenants, suspected of organizing the snatch. They set up roadblocks that made travel difficult both within Sadr City and between that area and the rest of Baghdad.

That’s the situation as of the weekend. Yesterday:

4. Moqtada complained, and threatened unspecified but drastic consequences. The Mahdi Army cordoned off Sadr City, completely isolating it.

5. Without any advance warning to the U.S., al-Maliki ordered that the roadblocks be taken down.

6. The roadblocks are coming down.

Of course when the head of a sovereign government gives orders about U.S. military actions in his country, we have no option but to comply. But why should our troops keep dying to prop up a government that won’t stop its own political allies from kidnapping them?

Nor, it turns out, does that government want to be propped up the way we’re currently trying to do it:

Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq’s population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Duhhhhh … right. But of course Bush’s friends call any Democrat who says that a coward, if not a traitor.

And note also al-Maliki’s proposed solution:

..the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

And of course if we were to do that, we wouldn’t need 150,000 troops in Iraq. Congressman Murtha, call your office.

Oct 31, 7:25 AM EST

Iraq to lift Sadr City checkpoints

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered the lifting of joint U.S.-Iraqi military checkpoints around the Shiite militant stronghold of Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad – another apparent move to assert his authority with the Americans and appeal to his Shiite support base.

U.S. officials apparently did not have advance warning of the order to remove the around-the-clock barriers by 5 p.m. Tuesday. A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, said officers were meeting to “formulate a response to address the prime minister’s concerns.”

Witnesses said U.S. forces were seen dismantling checkpoints around Sadr City made of sandbags and concrete blocks Tuesday afternoon.

The tightened security had been credited by some for producing a temporary decline in violence, possibly because they curbed the activities of Shiite death squads blamed for waves of sectarian killings of Sunnis.

But a car bomb exploded in the neighborhood on Tuesday, killing three people and wounding five, police said. On Monday, a bombing there killed at least 33 people.

The extra checkpoints were set up last week around Sadr City as U.S. troops launched an intensive search for a missing American soldier and raided homes looking for death squad leaders in the sprawling slum that is home to an overwhelmingly Shiite population of 2.5 million people.

Other checkpoints manned by U.S. troops were erected in the downtown Karradah neighborhood where the soldier had been abducted.

Al-Maliki’s statement said such measures “should not be taken except during nighttime curfew hours and emergencies.”

“Joint efforts continue to pursue terrorists and outlaws who expose the lives of citizens to killings, abductions and explosions,” said the statement, issued in al-Maliki’s name in his capacity both as prime minister and commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

Earlier in the day, Shiite gunmen largely shut down access to Sadr City to demand the removal of the checkpoints, acting on orders from radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

In a statement addressed to local supporters on Monday, al-Sadr warned of unspecified action if the military’s “siege” continues. He also criticized what he called the silence of politicians over actions by the U.S. military in the district on Baghdad’s northeastern edge.

“If this siege continues for long, we will resort to actions which I will have no choice but to take, God willing, and when the time is right,” he said in the statement.

Al-Maliki’s demand threatened to further upset relations between the U.S. and the Iraqi government, which hit a rough patch last week after Al-Maliki issued a string of bitter complaints, at one point saying he was not “America’s man in Iraq.”

Al-Maliki was apparently angered by a statement from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that the prime minister had agreed to set a timeline for progress on reaching security and political goals – something al-Maliki denied.

U.S. concern over the deteriorating relationship was evident when National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley showed up unannounced in Baghdad on Monday to meet with al-Maliki and his security chief, Mouwafak al-Rubaie.

Al-Rubaie told The Associated Press late Monday that Hadley was in Iraq to discuss the work of a five-person committee that al-Maliki and Bush had agreed to Saturday. Hadley also presented some proposals concerning the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, as well as security plans. U.S. spokesmen could not immediately be reached on Tuesday and it wasn’t known whether Hadley had returned to Washington.

American voter support for the war is at a low point as the Nov. 7 midterm elections approach, and a top aide to al-Maliki said the Iraqi leader was using the Republicans’ vulnerability on the issue to leverage concessions from the Bush administration – particularly the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq’s population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

[Full text below the fold.]

Oct 31, 7:25 AM EST

Iraq to lift Sadr City checkpoints

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered the lifting of joint U.S.-Iraqi military checkpoints around the Shiite militant stronghold of Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad – another apparent move to assert his authority with the Americans and appeal to his Shiite support base.

U.S. officials apparently did not have advance warning of the order to remove the around-the-clock barriers by 5 p.m. Tuesday. A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, said officers were meeting to “formulate a response to address the prime minister’s concerns.”

Witnesses said U.S. forces were seen dismantling checkpoints around Sadr City made of sandbags and concrete blocks Tuesday afternoon.

The tightened security had been credited by some for producing a temporary decline in violence, possibly because they curbed the activities of Shiite death squads blamed for waves of sectarian killings of Sunnis.

But a car bomb exploded in the neighborhood on Tuesday, killing three people and wounding five, police said. On Monday, a bombing there killed at least 33 people.

The extra checkpoints were set up last week around Sadr City as U.S. troops launched an intensive search for a missing American soldier and raided homes looking for death squad leaders in the sprawling slum that is home to an overwhelmingly Shiite population of 2.5 million people.

Other checkpoints manned by U.S. troops were erected in the downtown Karradah neighborhood where the soldier had been abducted.

Al-Maliki’s statement said such measures “should not be taken except during nighttime curfew hours and emergencies.”

“Joint efforts continue to pursue terrorists and outlaws who expose the lives of citizens to killings, abductions and explosions,” said the statement, issued in al-Maliki’s name in his capacity both as prime minister and commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

Earlier in the day, Shiite gunmen largely shut down access to Sadr City to demand the removal of the checkpoints, acting on orders from radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

In a statement addressed to local supporters on Monday, al-Sadr warned of unspecified action if the military’s “siege” continues. He also criticized what he called the silence of politicians over actions by the U.S. military in the district on Baghdad’s northeastern edge.

“If this siege continues for long, we will resort to actions which I will have no choice but to take, God willing, and when the time is right,” he said in the statement.

Al-Maliki’s demand threatened to further upset relations between the U.S. and the Iraqi government, which hit a rough patch last week after Al-Maliki issued a string of bitter complaints, at one point saying he was not “America’s man in Iraq.”

Al-Maliki was apparently angered by a statement from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that the prime minister had agreed to set a timeline for progress on reaching security and political goals – something al-Maliki denied.

U.S. concern over the deteriorating relationship was evident when National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley showed up unannounced in Baghdad on Monday to meet with al-Maliki and his security chief, Mouwafak al-Rubaie.

Al-Rubaie told The Associated Press late Monday that Hadley was in Iraq to discuss the work of a five-person committee that al-Maliki and Bush had agreed to Saturday. Hadley also presented some proposals concerning the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, as well as security plans. U.S. spokesmen could not immediately be reached on Tuesday and it wasn’t known whether Hadley had returned to Washington.

American voter support for the war is at a low point as the Nov. 7 midterm elections approach, and a top aide to al-Maliki said the Iraqi leader was using the Republicans’ vulnerability on the issue to leverage concessions from the Bush administration – particularly the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq’s population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers in fighting Monday, bringing the number of troops killed in Iraq this month to 103.

October has been the fourth deadliest month for American troops since the war began in March 2003. The other highest monthly death tolls were 107 in January 2005; at least 135 in April 2004, and 137 in November 2004.

The military had no immediate comment on a CBS News report saying the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey was expected to recommend Iraq’s ill-equipped and marginally effective security forces be increased by up to 100,000 troops. Casey said last month that he wouldn’t rule out asking for more forces, something that could allow U.S. troop levels to be gradually reduced.

At least three Iraqi policemen were also reported killed on Tuesday morning in Baghdad and the volatile western city of Falujah, police said.

The bodies of five unidentified people, including a woman, were found dumped early Tuesday morning in eastern Baghdad, police Maj. Mahir Hamid Mussa said. They had been tied up and blindfolded, with their bodies showing signs of torture, Mussa said.

Sheik Raed Naeem al-Juheishi, the head of a non-governmental organization dedicated to tracing the fate of victims of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, was also killed in a drive-by-shooting Monday night in Baghdad’s chaotic Dora district, Col. Mohammed Ali said.

New violence that followed a lull during last week’s Muslim holy days claimed the lives of at least 81 people across Iraq on Monday.

According to an Associated Press count, October has recorded more Iraqi civilian deaths – 1,170 as of Monday – than any other month since the AP began keeping track in May 2005. The next-highest month was March 2006, when 1,038 Iraqi civilians were killed in the aftermath of the Feb. 22 bombing of an important Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Cutting and running from Sadr City”

  1. I don't believe we were fighting the Mahdi Army in Fallujah. Earlier, in Najaf for a little while, as I recall.
    Otherwise, a pretty nice post.

  2. as robert and michael pointed out, sadr's militia was not in fallujah. fallujah was (and is) a sunni stronghold. the shia mahdi army is probably as unwelcome in fallujah as u.s. forces were.
    who is sunni and who is shia, and what areas each predominate, is a pretty basic distinction to make. you really need to be aware of it, if you want to make intelligible commentary on iraq

  3. Also, this…
    "Moqtada is a minister in the Iraqi government."
    Huh? I know many of the ministers are ostensible followers of his, but I hadn't heard he was a minister himself.

  4. Mark's mistake about Sadr being in Fallujah is an unfortunate result of the American habit of refering to all our enemies by the same generic term "them" instead of paying attention to who all the various factions are.
    We fight "them" over there so we don't have to fight "them" over here.
    Sadr's people did fight pitched battles against the Americans, but in the Shiite city of Najaf, not the Sunni dominate Fallujah.
    Given the administration's habit of throwing all factions into the same pronoun, it's little wonder that many people don't remember who we're fighting against anymore.

  5. "But why should our troops keep dying to prop up a government"
    Wow. Finally an answer to what the US is doing in Iraq. They are there to prop up the current government, not for the oil or for permanent bases or whatever. That clears everything up.
    Come on, Mark, this is one of the most inane claims you've ever posted. The US is there for whatever insane reason went through GWB's head, but it damn well had nothing to do with propping up the current Iraqi government. What's next? A claim that the German's were in Norway only so they could prop up Quisling's government?

  6. I too said "It's over", only that was after Abu Ghraib. I think I was right, too. Yet W has lumbered along. He may well stay the course for two more years.

  7. If Moqtada al-Sadr has ties to both the government and the sectarian killing going on somewhere in Iraq and the present government in Iraq says that it is the U.S. troop presence that is causing the violence, why is it Iraqis who are dying in far greater numbers? Is it so much easier to kill your own people than U.S. soldiers in order to make the U.S. look bad and force a withdrawal? Does the Iraqi government know the violence will stop when the U.S. withdraws because of people like al-Sadr playing both sides of the fence?

  8. Is it so much easier to kill your own people than U.S. soldiers in order to make the U.S. look bad and force a withdrawal?
    Your question assumes that the main goal of the Iraqi militias is to chase the U.S. out of the country. It isn't. It's to secure political power and territory.
    They don't kill "their own people". The Shiite death squads hunt out Sunni families and kill or drive them from Shiite dominated areas to purify their neighborhoods and establish political control. The Sunni's do the same in areas where they dominate. Even the Kurds have been driving out Arabs and Turkmen from northern cities. Each faction is attempting to secure as much of the country as they can before the final lines are drawn. Much the same happened in Yugoslavia a few years ago.
    The fact that most Americans can't tell the difference between the different factions means we don't know how to respond effectively to the carnage.

  9. I understand there are different factions, I just didn't understand their goals, I assumed they wanted the U.S. gone because "Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq's population centers is partly behind the surge in violence." By "their own people" I meant Iraqi citizens.
    Now agreeing that the violence is based on carving out a piece of Iraqi pie, how is the U.S. presence making things worse? What is it about removing U.S. troops from population centers that will stop this carving?

  10. Now agreeing that the violence is based on carving out a piece of Iraqi pie, how is the U.S. presence making things worse?
    I don't think we are making things worse. I just don't think that we're making a difference in Iraq at all anymore. Maliki criticizes our troops because its politically convenient for him to blame someone else for the lack of security and because we're going after his people.
    There was a time when we might've secured the country and provided enough stability for an Iraqi government to form, but that should have been done before we handed 'sovereignty' to the Iraqi parliament. The civil war is on and we can't pick one side over another. Maliki is part of the problem because he's so closely tied to the Shiite militias. He wants us gone eventually, but not before he can consolidate his power base.

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