Sadr’s militia move ‘shrewd tactic’
* US cautiously welcomes militia freeze
BAGHDAD: The decision by radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to order his militia to draw in their claws is a shrewd tactic aimed at positioning himself for a wider political role while ridding himself of rogue elements, analysts said on Thursday. “He’s a very, very shrewd and calculating politician,” Adel Darwish, veteran Middle East commentator, said of the influential black-turbaned cleric.
“He’ll stay quiet for six months or a year,” Darwish told AFP by telephone from London.
Sadr was likely to make his first move when British forces withdraw from Basra in southern Iraq, said Egyptian-born Darwish who has written two books on Iraq, including one on executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Once the troops have left, “very quietly he’ll move in,” he predicted.
In the longer term, Sadr is biding his time until the inevitable pullout of all US-led forces from war-ravaged Iraq, said Darwish.
“He’s just waiting for the American withdrawal - once the coalition forces are out they can do whatever they like.” The US military on Thursday cautiously welcomed radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s freeze on militia activities, including a halt to attacks on US-led forces.
“Any time someone in Iraq, especially a leader, wants to use non-violent methods to solve problems and to participate in a meaningful way in the future of Iraq, we encourage this,” said US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Garver.
“As always, the proof will be what we see on the street. But we encourage any leader to work to end criminality, to work to end violence and to seek non-violent methods to move Iraq forward,” Garver said in a statement.
The events at Karbala were an embarrassment to Sadr, according to Joost Hiltermann, the chief Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank. “He doesn’t want to be seen fighting Shiites right beside the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas,” said Hiltermann, referring to Shiite Islam’s holiest sites in Karbala.
“There are too many loose elements (in the Mahdi Army) and he wants to regain control,” he added. “This is purely an internal matter.”
Sadr, he said, has no intention of ever disbanding his militia, which according to a December 2006 report by the Iraq Survey Group boasts about 60,000 fighters. “He needs the Mahdi Army,” said Hiltermann. “As long as he has access to violence, the other parties will let him in. He has always played a dual role.” Hiltermann said Sadr’s longer term goal was to continue the mission his father, the revered Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, had begun - speaking up for Iraq’s poorer voiceless classes of Shiites. afp