Dr. iRack is procrastinating from grading a bunch of his students' papers, and has CNN on in the background. The network has taken a break from obsessing on the latest turn in the (increasingly un-drammatic) Democratic primary contest to report that a ceasefire has been declared between the Sadrists and the Maliki government in Sadr City. According to CNN.com:
Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, told CNN the cease-fire will go into effect no later than Sunday morning.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirmed that an agreement had been reached.
Negotiations began about two days ago between the Sadrists and the government, al-Obeidi said, with the United Iraq Alliance acting as mediators. The UIA is the ruling Shiite political bloc in government and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is a member.
Let's hope this sticks, although until the fighting actually stops we won't know for sure. Indeed, although the agreement was supposedly reached Friday night,
Leaflets from al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, however, distributed in Sadr City on Saturday, warned members against deals and agreements reported in the media.
The leaflets told the "brothers in the Mehdi Army" to hold their positions until they receive another statement from the Mehdi command.
The deal was first reported yesterday by McClatchy, and will reportedly go into effect on Sunday morning. It will allow the ISF to enter Sadr City and arrest anyone found with "medium or heavy weapons" and conduct other arrests if the ISF has a warrant. The ceasefire will be another test of the degree of JAM fragmentation and Sadr's residual command-and-control over his organization.
It will be interesting to see how the ceasefire is spun, politically, in Baghdad and Washington. Some will argue it is a victory for Maliki because it allows the ISF to assert more control over Sadr City. The McClatchy
piece, for example, frames the agreement as "a surprising capitulation that seemed likely to be hailed as a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki."
Others will argue that Sadr is the winner because he was not forced to completely disband his militia. (In this context, it will be interesting to see if Maliki still tries to bar Sadrists from upcoming provincial elections if JAM remains intact.) Still others will say that Sadr was allowed to have a "partial win," and that this shows that the American and Iraqi governments are going back to their core strategy of trying to co-opt moderate elements of JAM by allowing Sadr to save face. Dr. iRack suspects (and hopes) that this is part of the story given the overall strategy against JAM articulated in the joint campaign plan (which calls for seperating "reconcilable" from "irreconcilable" elements of the movement). It may also help explain the verbal gymnastics and ratcheting down of anti-Iran rhetoric in recent days--which were perhaps part of a concerted effort to provide enough discursive "slack" to allow Sadr (and the Iranians?) a face-saving exit strategy.