April 30, 2008

Sadr City Blues

The fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and elements of JAM in Sadr City has been fierce. The coalition reports that it has killed 200 fighters, and claims that militants have fired 600 rockets at U.S. and Iraqi targets over the past month. Heavy combat continues to produce a significant toll on Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire. Against this background, Dr. iRack has heard from a senior U.S. military official that the impending MNF-I briefing detailing Iranian support to Shia militants has been delayed again. Apparently the delay was at the request of the Iraqi government, which sent a delegation to Iran in an attempt to encourage Tehran to help de-escalate the fighting. If true, this would be a concrete example of the "good cop, bad cop" dynamics I discussed in my last post. Meanwhile, a group of Sadrist leaders is reportedly set to meet with the Maliki government in coming days to negotiate, but, as the Washington Post reports, "both sides have indicated they are far from a settlement. Maliki is demanding that Sadr disband the militia, a step seen as unlikely."

Let's hope something gets worked out soon, for the sake of all the civilians caught up in the fray, and because threats are increasing from JAM that their longstanding freeze--already under, er, considerable strain--may be abandoned altogether in favor of all-out war. Again from the Post:

Sadr has threatened to call off the eight-month cease-fire, which has been widely credited with lowering the level of violence in Iraq, if the government does not end its offensive against his followers.

Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, did not respond to repeated calls for comment. Followers of Sadr, however, said they were growing more eager for an all-out war to defend themselves.

"We are very close to the Zero Hour," said Ala'a Abd, 30, a Mahdi Army member in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, using an Arabic expression meaning that time is up. "Everyone should realize that.

Update: More on the Iraqi delegation to Iran from the NYT.