Meanwhile, Cap'n Ed puzzles over why Sadr continues to refuse to play his assigned part in the "decline into political obsolescence" narrative that the Cap'n and so many other conservative scribes have persisted in writing lo these many years.
Sadr has proven a wily foe in Iraq, and one has to wonder what he hopes to gain from this decision. No one really understood his sudden decision to adopt the cease-fire, either, except that he had already tried fighting a smaller American force and lost badly. Sadr didn't want to give the US another reason to go after him personally, and in fact fled the country when the surge started.
One hint may be in his new enthusiasm for his religious studies. He has long wanted to be taken seriously as a cleric, but lacked the formal training that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has, as well as his standing. Sadr, who got marginalized by Nouri al-Maliki this year as a politician, wants to extend his influence through Islam, and it looks like he's willing to be patient about it.
Yes, the Cap'n actually used the word "wily," a classic bit of old-timey colonialist jargon usually deployed when the sahib has been conned out of his watch. After all, Sadr's only a local Arab (and a turbaned one at that!) and therefore must be described as "wily," or "crafty," or perhaps "sly," and sometimes, on weekends, "cunning." He cannot ever be "intelligent," "astute," or just plain old "more knowledgeable about his own country and its political contours than the former exiles and foreign governments trying to run it." No, never that.
As I wrote back in October, Sadr's stand-down order was consistent with a pattern he had set over the last few years, in which he periodically pulled back to allow rogue elements of his militia to be picked off by coalition forces. I think his more formal announcement of a cease-fire in August is explained by the significant threat to his reputation that existed after his Mahdi Army was blamed for the Karbala violence that occurred days earlier.
In regard to the contention that Sadr was "marginalized by Nouri al-Maliki," this article in this morning's Washington Post suggests the opposite: Maliki's government, and, more significantly, the Najaf clerical establishment which has supported it, has seen its influence diminished, while Sadr's continues to grow. It's no secret why: whether it's electricity, food, gasoline, or security, Jamaat al-Sadr delivers. General Petraeus understood this, which is why he took steps to fold the movement into his Baghdad security strategy, and credited Sadr with helping to curb violence there.
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