The dramatic decline in bloodshed in Iraq – at least until last week’s terrible market bombings in Baghdad – is largely due to Muqtada al-Sadr’s August 2007 unilateral ceasefire. Made under heavy U.S. and Iraqi pressure and as a result of growing discontent from his own Shiite base, Muqtada’s decision to curb his unruly movement was a positive step. But the situation remains highly fragile and potentially reversible. If the U.S. and others seek to press their advantage and deal the Sadrists a mortal blow, these gains are likely to be squandered, with Iraq experiencing yet another explosion of violence. The need is instead to work at converting Muqtada’s unilateral measure into a more comprehensive multilateral ceasefire that can create conditions for the movement to evolve into a fully legitimate political actor.
As I wrote last week, understanding Muqtada al-Sadr's contribution to the drop in violence, and the deal that was made to secure his cooperation, is essential in order to grasp the truth behind the preposterous "success of the surge" that John McCain and other conservatives are selling. It's not that there hasn't been a drop in violence, there has been, but given the new reality of Iraq as a warlord state (a reality which the surge strategy has ratified), presenting this drop in violence as anything like the fulfillment of the stated goals of the surge (to say nothing of the original goals of the Iraq project as a whole) is deeply and shamefully dishonest.