Something really, really important
    is going in in Najaf and Karbala…

OK. I give up. What’s happening in Najaf?

…but I’m damned if I know what it is, or whether it’s good news or bad news.

Either we’ve won the political battle by isolating Moqtada al-Sadr and are now moving in for the military kill — a terrific triumph if we can bring it off — or we’re about to make a deal (or have already made a deal) that avoids a battle but at the expense of letting him walk on the murder charge and leaving the city in the hands of a military force that includes lots of Moqtada’s troops. That sort of deal wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world — a house-to-house fight for the holy cities, leaving all the Shi’i angry at us, would be the worst outcome — but it wouldn’t be a happy result, either.

If the deal is the real story, it would be a duplicate of what seems to have happened in Fallujah: we went up to the brink, but then decided we confronted a political problem that didn’t have a military solution and decided to accept something far short of victory.

I’m not qualified, or positioned, to second-guess. My first reaction is relief that cooler heads prevailed and complete catastrophe was averted, but that could easily be wrong.

Update Uh-oh. There was a deal, and Bremer turned it down, and the troops are moving in. I hope he knows what sort of dynamite he’s playing with, and that someone has made sure al-Sistani will hold still for this. But the fact that Gen. Dempsey and the Iraqi governor appointed by the CPA liked the deal suggests that it might have been the best one available.

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