Sempre dalla Stratfor un’analisi sui recentissimi sviluppi della situazione iraqena, con riferimento alle strategie degli sciiti.
Iraq: Al-Sadr and the Shiite Understanding
Jan 19, 2007
U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested a key aide of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Jan. 19. The arrest follows a string of similar recent moves against the al-Sadrite bloc. Surprisingly, the incident did not spark the usual violent reaction from the al-Sadrite movement’s militia, the Mehdi Army. The al-Sadrite bloc’s tolerance for operations against it suggests Iraq’s Shia might have reached an understanding aimed at strengthening the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister.
One of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s top aides, Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, was arrested from a Baghdad mosque in a pre-dawn joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Al-Darraji was the media director for the al-Sadrite bloc in Iraq’s capital. His arrest is just the latest in a series of moves against the radical Shiite Islamist movement.
Even in the face of this escalation of operations against the al-Sadrite bloc, al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia has remained unusually restrained. The group’s behavior typically involves engaging in intra-Shiite fighting, clashing with U.S. and Iraqi forces, and most recently, carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis. The al-Sadrite bloc’s newfound tolerance for operations against it suggests Iraq’s Shia might have reached an understanding aimed at strengthening the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Sadr has said his militias will not fight back during the Shiite holy month of Muharram, which begins Jan. 20, since killing at this time violates Islamic teaching. He added, however, that "after Muharram, we’ll see." The radical Shiite leader went on to say he fears for his own life, and has moved his family to a secure location. Al-Sadr added that he is constantly on the move as well, and has drawn up a will.
It is interesting, however, that al-Sadr has tried to explain away his restraint on the basis of the holy month of Muharram, because that month has not yet begun. Operations against his group have been ongoing for some time, including:
the Dec. 19 capture of a Mehdi Army bomb cell leader in the city of Al Kut.
reports that began surfacing Dec. 20 that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has tentatively approved a move to isolate extremists.
major violence that broke out Dec. 23-24 in As Samawa between the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Sadrite forces, prompting a curfew in the southern Iraqi city.
a raid by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers Dec. 27 on the family home of Sahib al-Ameri, secretary-general of the Martyrs Foundation, a pro-Sadr political foundation in the holy city of An Najaf; al-Ameri died in the raid.
the abandonment of Mehdi Army checkpoints in Baghdad that began Jan. 10; militia members have stopped wearing their uniforms, hidden their weapons, stopped communicating by cell phone and purged members suspected of disloyalty.
the Jan. 16 arrest of some 400 individuals affiliated with the al-Sadrite bloc.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s acknowledgement for the first time Jan. 17 that his government is going after the Mehdi Army.
Prior to these developments, a number of militiamen and commanders of the Mehdi Army, to whom the al-Sadrites have referred as "rogue elements," were killed.
This all suggests that an understanding has been reached between al-Sadr and Iraq’s other Shiite factions: al-Sadr has decided to allow the al-Maliki government to demonstrate that it is reining in Shiite militants, especially those from the Mehdi Army. This probably has been assisted by the Iranians, who likely have used their influence to get the Mehdi Army to lower its profile.
Such developments do not mean the Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons have reached a broad agreement to stabilize Iraq. Rather, the Shia are acting out of self-interest. The al-Maliki government is under intense U.S. pressure to demonstrate progress toward stability. And if the government does not meet this expectation, it could collapse.
The Iraqi Shia realize that they are the most divided of all the key communal factions in Iraq, which is why it took six months after Iraq’s December 2005 elections to finalize the al-Maliki government. They are also aware that at present, the 128 Shiite seats in the parliament and their control over the Cabinet is the best that the Shia can get — and they are at risk of losing it if they do not get their act together. Considering that al-Sadr’s group forms the largest component within the Shiite alliance (at 32 seats, it controls the largest number of Shiite parliamentary positions), the radical Shiite leader cannot be eliminated from the alliance altogether. At the same time, his militia cannot be allowed to run amok.
Meanwhile, the Iranians realize that over time, exploiting intra-Shiite differences has diminishing marginal utility, and that Tehran’s long-term interests are best served through Iraqi Shiite unity.
Al-Sadr himself does not want to appear to be conceding on his long-held opposition to the presence of U.S. forces in the country. But he also cannot continue business as usual.
Thus, we have a movement toward allowing the government to demonstrate it is reining in Shiite militias, the actions of which are an obstacle to containing the Sunni insurgency. At the same time, al-Sadr likely has received assurances that his political position remains secure so long as he does not block efforts to contain the militias. Whether this succeeds is something else again.