Monday, March 31, 2008

Sadr stands down

From The Washington Post:

BAGHDAD, March 30 -- Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Sunday to lay down their arms and end six days of clashes against U.S. and Iraqi forces if the government agrees to release detainees and give amnesty to Sadr's fighters, among other demands. But after the statement, mortar attacks continued in Baghdad and Basra, and violence persisted in many pockets of the country.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the government, described Sadr's statement as a "positive step," but he said Iraqi security forces would continue to try to bring order to Basra, a southern oil center. A government offensive there against militias triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad last week. Iraqi forces "will finish the job," Dabbagh said.

Sadr's nine-point statement instructed his Mahdi Army militia to cooperate with government efforts to achieve security, but stopped short of ordering them to turn in weapons to Iraqi security forces, as the government has demanded. Sadr also used the opening of the statement as a rallying cry against occupation forces, describing them as the "armies of darkness."

In exchange for an end to fighting, Sadr demanded that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki release hundreds of detained Sadr followers not proven guilty of crimes. Over the past few months, Iraqi security forces have raided the homes of hundreds of Sadr followers, arresting and detaining them. Thousands more have fled. Sadr demanded that they be returned to their homes.

Mahdi Army commanders and fighters in Baghdad and across southern Iraq appeared to have mixed reactions. Some laid down their arms while others kept fighting.

If Sadr had not felt himself to be losing he would not have even attempted to cut a deal. This is good news because the effort was Iraqi led. Of course it could have gone better but the important thing is that they are beginning to stand on their own. Al Qaeda in Iraq is essentially gone and the only obstacle to stability of any importance are the Shiite militias. If they have come to see the negotiating table rather than AK's and IED's as their best course of action then the end of the affair may be in sight. That is after all what happened in Northern Ireland.


Big Lizards has a good piece up about this comparing the New York Times coveage to that of Bill Roggio. Here is his conclusion:

So according to Roggio, a beaten Sadr is desperately seeking a face-saving way out of a war he is losing badly. But according to the Times (reporting by Erica Goode), a triumphant Sadr has trapped American forces and feeble, helpless Iraqi lickspittles and lapdogs in a quagmire; and now we are begging Sadr to give us (following our acquiescence to a series of "demands") a face-saving opportunity to run away with our tails between our legs.

I draw two conclusions: First, Bill Roggio, with his infantry background and current military connections (he has embedded with the Army, Marines, the Iraqi army, and the Iraqi National Police many times during the last four years), is far more likely to understand the situation on the ground in Iraq. Therefore, I trust his take on Sadr's surrender more than I trust the Times.
Second, based on the elite-media coverage of Operation Knights' Charge against the Mahdi Militia over the past week, I can only conclude that it must be an election year.