August 13, 2004

Sadr Cries Uncle?

A shaky truce has been called between the U.S. and al-Sadr's insurgency.

NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi officials and aides to a radical Shiite cleric negotiated Friday to end fighting that has raged in Najaf for nine days, after American forces suspended an offensive against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. Al-Sadr's aides said he was wounded by shrapnel, but Iraqi officials said the cleric was involved in the talks.
I have no idea what they're talking about, obviously. None of us do. It's possible that al-Sadr is giving it up because he is afraid and knows he'll be destroyed if he doesn't. (Especially if he really is wounded.) That might not be what's happening. I really don't know. But one thing I do know is that the U.S. military isn't afraid of any defeat. Sadr and his boys aren't that tough. Their only choices were to fight to the death or cry uncle. Looks to me like they chose the latter.

The potential problem here is that Sadr and his gang are calling a hudna, a truce in a moment of weakness, in order to regroup and fight again later. If that's the case this truce has no value from our point of view. A pause in fighting is not an end to fighting, and there's no point deluding ourselves that this is over unless Moqtada al Sadr is negotiating the terms of his surrender.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 13, 2004 09:41 AM

Man, I am tired of this.

Filthy little insurgencies really do evaporate when you knock off the leaders, and they tend not to start up in the first place when everyone knows well that there's a death-to-rabble-rousing-murderers policy in place.

So get it in place, already. Precedent. Pour encourager les autres, and all that.

Posted by: dipnut at August 13, 2004 09:51 AM

I have posted more detailed comments on the previous thread but one thing you can count on:
Al-Sadr will never surrender to us.Never.Never.Never.Islamic thought does not allow surrenders.Victory,death,or hudna. But never surrender.
We are falling into yet another trap and remember it is you who said," Kill Al-Sadr"!!
Good advice then ---- better advice now.

Posted by: dougf at August 13, 2004 09:53 AM

>>>"The potential problem here is that Sadr and his gang are calling a hudna, a truce in a moment of weakness, in order to regroup and fight again later."

This is typical Arab trickery; otherwise known as the hudna. And the U.S. naively agrees because we're afraid of scratching that holy mosque currently doubling as a weapons cache/outhouse. It could inflame the "arab street."

And what does showing weakness do? It emboldens them. The "truce" is their victory, and probably a great recruiting tool. The politicians are running it again.

Posted by: David at August 13, 2004 10:01 AM

Enough is enough. Finish Al-Sadr and his ragtag army off.

If not, we're going to see a repeat of this again.

Posted by: Niraj at August 13, 2004 10:17 AM

Lose one for the Gipper !!! We have idiots in charge.This fiasco is actually making Kerry sound reasonable and that takes some doing.

Posted by: dougf at August 13, 2004 10:57 AM


We'll know when it's really over when we DICTATE the terms of his surrender.

He will negotiate squat.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at August 13, 2004 11:14 AM

If you think people are upset on this blog,you should take a wander through the comments on
" Iraq the Model". Scathing.Talk about 'turning points'.

Posted by: dougf at August 13, 2004 11:18 AM

I do wish the media (like Reuters) would stop calling it "the holy city of Najaf". It may have been a holy city once, but holy cities are not marked by the presence of armed thugs.

If it is indeed a holy city, they should move out - because we all know that the US has no intention of bombing it. And if they insist on staying there, with their heavily-armed fighters in heavily-armed mosques, they should drop the word "holy".

Posted by: Mike at August 13, 2004 12:10 PM


you're right. I don't even bother putting the word holy in quotes anymore (see above) because it should be self-evidently not holy. But the press are just a bunch of pandering dhimmis.

Posted by: David at August 13, 2004 12:24 PM

I think we all need to show a little patience on this issue. We are only nine days into this. It appears we have him and his 'army' surrounded in the area of the mosque. We do not know all of the details on the ground. But nine days in a small amount of time. Rushing to achieve victory can backfire; see March - April 2003 in Iraq, where the quick victory can have negative consequences.

In the end, it is best if the Iraqis get him. Perhaps we are preparing the Iraqi assault force in case Sadr will not surrender. Let's give this time to play out. And save the criticism IF we let him go.....

Posted by: Bill Roggio at August 13, 2004 12:39 PM

The pace of this op has been totally controlled by the coalition; amidst all the confusion, conjecture, and spin about the only facts that seem solid are that ING/police are at the walls of the Shrine of Ali and the cemetery is (possibly) under control of the Marines. I think it'll be another 24 hours before anything substantive makes it through the fog about what, if any, terms, are granted to al Sadr.

ROE have been been reset to defensive fires only, and only for disengagement.

Belmont Club is updated.

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 13, 2004 12:52 PM

TmjUtah, As usual, you are in my head....

Posted by: Bill Roggio at August 13, 2004 12:57 PM

Latest TV news says al-Sadr is trying to dictate terms, i.e., Iraqi govt to resign, all prisoners to be freed, etc. Doubtless he will next require that the US troops convert to Islam!
All this seems to be what in Farsi is called "ta'arofa"--empty talk, ritual boasting.
Doubtless Arabic has a similar term.
What's important is the politics of the assault on Najaf: Bush needs a big victory now, just like Lincoln needed (and got) Atlanta 140 years ago. If he presses ahead and destroys al-Sadr, I will vote for him. If all this results in yet another bogus truce, then he is not that different from Kerry and his "sensitive war" and I have no real reason to vote for him.

Posted by: Mike Reynolds at August 13, 2004 03:28 PM

It's a little more complex than that. Pretty obviously the Iraqi government is trying something. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen. Give it a couple of days.

Posted by: Eric Blair at August 13, 2004 04:22 PM

I think we should never show weakness when dealing with these bullies and thugs, it only encourages them. I suppose we have concern that we will get 700 million Shiites on a rampage against us if we do this wrong, but I think the best way to keep the Shiites in line is to destroy Sadr quickly and mercilessly. How to do so without destroying the mosque? Probably if we knew how to do that, the Marines would have done it already.

Good luck to our guys, and all of us. It would be especially nice if we set Sadr up for the kill and Alawi went in and took him out.

Posted by: thedragonflies at August 13, 2004 05:31 PM

Let's see, U.S. forces to pull back and the city to be patrolled by some vague "third party" force which is actually the same thugs we've been fighting. This all sounds drearily familiar.

I would feel a lot more confident about the endgame in Najaf if we hadn't agreed to this sort of arrangement in Fallujah back in April.

We've got to get over this Enlightenment belief that the Shiites will say, "Wow, the Americans really are bending over backwards to be merciful and respectful, we should do what they want."

I have absolutely no military experience, but can't Iraqis/ U.S. special services just rush the shrine and kill all who resist with small arms fire without causing major structural damage? Sure, it'll make a mess, but the place is probably a pigsty already.

Posted by: Matt Ward at August 14, 2004 04:59 AM

...about the only facts that seem solid are that ING/police are at the walls of the Shrine of Ali...

Ahh, classic tmj -- utterly self-assured, and utterly clueless.

It may interest you to know that the people at the walls of the Imam Ali shrine are thousands of demonstrators who've arrived as human shields to protect it from an attack.

Go ahead, look at the pictures in the link. Then tell me how many of those people you're willing to kill to get at al-Sadr.

Posted by: Swopa at August 14, 2004 10:10 AM

All of them.

Next question?

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 14, 2004 01:04 PM

No further questions, your honor.

If you're willing to look to all the world like as bloodthirsty a tyrant as Saddam, and accept the consequences, then go for it.

Posted by: Swopa at August 14, 2004 01:09 PM

Good thing I'm not running the show, isn't it?

No sanctuary for combatants. We spend millions of dollars to AVOID destroying non-combatants and cultural/religious/medical facilities.

We need to disabuse people like al Sadr that there is anyplace to hide that we will not go.

But this impasse with al Sadr will end with his capture or death just the same. The primary beneficiary will be the provisional government of and for the Iraqi people. It's a revolution; just this time it's not to install another thug but to make sure that no more ever arise.

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 14, 2004 01:14 PM

" Good thing I'm not running the show, isn't it?"--TMJ

Uh,actually I would prefer someone with a sense of history and a willingness to do what is required to win to be running this farce.So if you are free maybe you could volunteer your services.
How our wondeeful military allowed all those people to get there in the first place is just mind boggling.
This is going to turn out badly.Well actually this has already turned out badly and I do not share your confidence at all.As is I said to just about everyone,if we were unwilling or unable to finish the job we should never have gone after Al-Sadr in the first place.I am placed in the very unfortunate position of agreeing with Swopa(shudder),and I believe he is corret in his analysis of this mess.
We took TOO LONG to press the attack.Had we simply killed everyone in sight in 48 hours we would already be moving on.Instead some genius had the idea to SLOWLY move on the shrine itself and time was never on our side.

Posted by: dougf at August 14, 2004 03:08 PM

Swopa -

You think I sound brutal? That I have some blind spot on my compassion canvas? I don't think that that is the case at all. I think the true case was touched on by dougf, even if I disagree with his conclusions about this specific event.

History is chock full of examples of ireconcilable conflict between political/religous/cultural powers. Greeks and Persians. Islam and the Infidel. Indigenous peoples and western imperialists. The Continental System and England. Militant fascism/representative democracy/communism - all of these conflicts have been decided by force of arms.

All of them. Whether via the actual employment of arms or by merely driving the other ideology off the field via overwhelming military superiority, it all comes down to who is able to dictate terms and make them stick.

In the last century we avoided a point conflict with the Soviet Union only because the nature of the combatants and the technology available forced an unprecedented economic solution into the history book. The Soviets fought their failed system harder than they fought anyone outside their borders. We resolved to be secure from the threat they posed and finally armed ourselves to the point they imploded. Then we violated the script and we welcomed them as a member of the free nations of the world. But never forget the millions that died of 'friction' in the interval between 1945 and 1989.

They became "not a threat",at least along the lines of an active aggressor, and we didn't do what winners have done in the past - dictate their future at gunpoint.

We are without a shred of doubt the damnedest odd entity as far as a putative empire or superpower could be measured. We've maintained the ability to fight a world war with conventional arms for over half a century (and win one without question for at least the last fifteen years) yet our last outright imperialist offensive happened over one hundred years ago and was rejected by popular acclamation almost before the sabers stopped rattling.

We haven't kept hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground around the world since WW2 to ensure the Americanization of the globe. We aren't fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or a score of other places to improve their lot in life. We aren't out to make a perfect world. Not even close. We are there to keep our people from being killed at home and abroad. What handflapping anti-Americans/globalists/imperialists condemn as imperialism is at best hegemony and is indisputably a market reaction to better ideas.

Al Sadr is no special case. He hasn't figured out that we are serious about finishing what we started. Granted, our mistake in Fallujah probably had a lot to do with his misconception - that and his direction from Tehran - but I'm pretty sure he's probably figured it out by now. Or he's dead. Where's the loss here? Or is killing your political opposition on the steps of a church some sort of new litmus test for viability in representative politics?

Our tactical goals in Afghanistan,Iraq and however many additional nations it will take are to remove regimes we find to be unacceptable threats, establish viable democracies in their place and get the hell out. The basis for setting those objectives was a deep and abiding belief that societies that practice representative democracy are less likely to produce the social ills that breed jihadis on the wholesale scale. To achieve that end, we will do what we have to do to make local civil government possible.

The Soviets restrained their power in competition with us because after all was said and done their objectives were rational. They pursued a utopian goal of social harmony and lack of material want. They intended to be around to enjoy their success. Their mechanism died when the first gulag opened. The following seventy years were death throes.

Until oil was discovered in the middle east, the region had spent about six hundred years perfecting itself as an ecotour destination and little else. External influences died against the rock of tribalism and nothing ever changed. After fifty years as the world's chief supplier of petroleum they still haven't grasped that it's not money that put them behind western culture. A society that refuses to encourage individual freedom will never, ever stand alongside one that does. They will always be following behind.

Unless they can kill all the ones in front, of course, which is what the rules tell them to do. And since the rules say that dying while trying scores brownie points, and are embraced, then you radically change the scale of violence probable in the conflict. Add the ready availability of obscenely dangerous weapons and you have a deadly, immediate, danger.

I hear the sneering trope "we've got our new cold war enemy in terror" all the time. Bullshit. Without we lived in freedom and on the leading edge of technological achievement, the Islamist world would have simply imploded on itself., we didn't have to look for an enemy. They found us.

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 14, 2004 05:39 PM

Swopa -

Saddam Hussein killed to control the population of Iraq. He attempted to invade Iran because he thought he could win. He slaughtered his Kurds and Marsh Arab populations because they dared resist him. He invaded Kuwait because he thought he could get away with it. His sons and his goons killed with impunity and without restraint as long as Hussein said it was o.k.

As we have this pleasant conversation our troops are on the ground and in battle. They are killing not because George Bush waved a baton but because our government, based on individual franchise and constitutional definitions and limits of power, has acted after deliberation and decision.

We couldn't begin to emmulate Hussein even if we tried - but we can remove any shred of doubt that no robed thugs w/gun toting disciples will be in line for a part of the future government of Iraq. You beat the enemy before you negotiate. We still have some beating to do.

If you call that brutal, so be it. I don't want us to be there one second longer than absolutely necessary and I can't see any advantage in dealing with situations like this more than once.

I've got some free advice for the Iraqis aiding the insurgency: Why don't you try to choose a leader or two who can advoctate instead of attack? If you don't want to deal with Americans then show up for local councils and make your needs heard and get in line for reconstruction. If you don't have working water, power, or sewer maybe its because IED's and foreign fighters make it impossible for anyone to fix anything. I understand that cellphones are proliferating like mold on wet bread - how about you drop a dime on that house full of Iranians on your block?

We want to be there less than you could ever imagine. You do your part and we'll be gone before you can say "inshallah".

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 14, 2004 06:33 PM

I would assume that MJT has predicted that by killing Sadr, the people he represents will disperse.

Is this correct? I'm assuming this is why you advocate his death?

Otherwise, what would be the point?

If what Swopa is saying is correct, and "thousands of civilians" - including women - are manning the barricades, and acting as human shields, does mowing down these men and women really fix the problem?

Again, if what Swopa is saying is correct.

Posted by: JC at August 14, 2004 08:23 PM

JC: I would assume that MJT has predicted that by killing Sadr, the people he represents will disperse.

Is this correct?

Some would disperse, some would not. At the very least he would be an object lesson. He still is an object lesson. If he wins a place at the table because he kills people, others will pull the same exact stunt thinking they can get away with it.

The real reason to kill him, though, is because he's the enemy. He is shooting our guys, so we shoot back. It's war. The calculus is pretty straightforward.

If you run into the street in the United States and start shooting people with a machine gun the police will kill you instantly if you do not put down your weapon and surrender. They will not send a lawyer after you, I can promise you that. I expect the army in a war zone to fight at least as seriously as my local police force.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 14, 2004 08:54 PM

I'll answer my own question, actually. I in no way believe that the death of Sadr would stop the people he represents from continuing their actions against the current government.

The truth would be somewhere between "inflame the whole region" and "problem solved".

It might simply be as prosaic as, well, not having an effect. The ongoing violence in Fallulah, Ramadi, Samarrah, always seems to be growing new heads, at least at the moment.

My own (what could be clearly wrong) prediction is fights and violence would contine to happen with the Sadrists.

The same way this has continued to happen with the angry Sunni middle state.

This is going to leave two low-level insurgencies, which, again, isn't conducive to stability, much less democracy.

Here's a link

which claims that things are actually getting worse.

We either have to get as brutal as we were in the Phillipines, at the beginning of the last century, or, we are stuck with localized areas of control, such as Fallulah. As it is, the current government's reach doesn't extend very far outside Baghdad - similar in many ways to Kabul in Afghanistan.

I really tire of two bad mythologies however - I think they have both been disproven.

1. The mythology of "inflaming the arab street". This is what invading Iraq was going to do, and while it has definitely has elements of truth - i.e. has acted as quite the recruitment tool for Al Queda - this particular line of reasoning has simply been proven very, very false. At least in the short term.

2. The mythology of "kill 'em all, and let God sort em out. They'll get with the program." There is a element of truth here as well - massive violence DOES scare large groups of people into giving up/surrendering. There are many, many examples of this.

However, as a democratic country, we simply don't - and won't - do this because of various political realities. Economic cooperation, sanction-free trade, free press, etc, oil flowing, american public opinion, etc, all act as significant constrainers on the ability to go "medieval on their asses".

This is why it doesn't happen. More than a significant constrainer, in practice, the United States democracy and wish the have a (fairly) good working relationship with our economic partners will CONTINUE to constrain the United States. There's a reason why, even this agressive administration, didn't simply wipe out Fallulah.

It's time all the warbloggers take off THEIR blinders, and admit this does now, and will continue to, constrain a take-no-prisoners approach. This is the reality of the situation.

Posted by: JC at August 14, 2004 09:04 PM

A couple of other points to this:

A link to the deteriorating attitude of the Shia to US forces:

Link here

In a nutshell - how to go from Shia crowds of welcome to chaos/insurgency, in just 16 months!

I'm purposely being provocative with that - but the takeaway is that things have gotten worse, and this continues to be the trend.

And I am pulling this off of Yahoo News:

Link here

The takeaway here is, 10,000 demonstrators. And coalition officials again saying, in no uncertain terms, they will not go in the shrine. (could be lying too, I know...)

Posted by: JC at August 14, 2004 09:30 PM

JC: The mythology of "kill 'em all, and let God sort em out.

Kill 'em all? Only those who actually take up arms against us. Otherwise, no killing, no way.

We can't not shoot back and expect to win a violent conflict without surrendering to demands. But I do not wish to kill one more person than is absolutely necessary.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 14, 2004 09:52 PM

I am wholly in agreement with Wretchard's last sentence on the link.

Sadr is a pawn. But the position he's placed his followers in is criminal. We fight in an environment inhabited by people who have never had a chance. Until we can crack their leadership they never will. And their leaders just keep spending their followers like a wino shoving quarters across a liguor store counter.

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 14, 2004 11:02 PM

I am always impressed with the deeply felt patriotism shown by the Western media.I guess it all depends on whether you consider the battle against Islamic medievalism to be a fundamental requirement for our future safety.If you do,I don't see how you can avoid drawing the conclusion that our media is guilty of defeatism at best and 'giving aid and comfort' to the enemy at worst.
I am posting a link below to an article in the WAPO which just sets my teeth on edge.Maybe I am now delusional but this type of article seems out of place when our best are putting their lives on the line on our behalf.
Am I completely off base on this or is this almost analogous to a sympathetic article detailing how Hans the good-old-boy SS man is really just a well meaning patriot?
Inquiring minds really want to know.

Posted by: dougf at August 14, 2004 11:18 PM

Speaking of mythology, how about the mythology that Al-Sadr is just a frustrated democrat:


Posted by: David at August 15, 2004 08:23 AM


Be safe, guys.

Posted by: TmjUtah at August 15, 2004 10:28 AM



Posted by: TmjUtah at August 15, 2004 10:44 AM

My prayer is that our politicians will find half the courage of our military and let these magnificent Americans do their job, once and for all.

Posted by: Pj at August 15, 2004 10:49 AM

I am wholly in agreement with Wretchard's last sentence on the link.

I found this passage from Wretchard's preceding post very interesting:

... Agence Presse France reports that thousands of Sadr supporters are trying to make their way to Najaf. Should that transpire, Sadr could hold out indefinitely because Allawi could never play the ace of unleashing forces on the Shrine; not with so many human shields in the way. Then Sadr would have won out ...

Of course, then Wretchard gets so caught up in his armchair-general fantasies that he fails to check whether those human shields arrived (as they have).

Come to think of it, wasn't Wretchard also the guy who initially told us to ignore mainstream media reports about Fallujah in April, because it really was a great success for the U.S. military? Guess he must have figured out the real story eventually.

Posted by: Swopa at August 15, 2004 11:16 AM

Well, this weekend, there seems to be a lot of thoughtful posts regarding the Iraq/Sadr situation.

Look at Praktike's post on Tacitus. Look at Matthew Yglesias's thoughtful post. Read their links. Read Winds of Change.

Michael, if you have a chance, it would be great if you would be more thoughtful as well on this.

As I said earlier, the "trend" is going against us in Iraq. Do you see this changing?

I don't see a way to break out of low-level violence, which then postpones democracy, which then causes others to sieze power, or we support another dictator in Allawi.

I think the only real chance, is to have democratic elections, the sooner the better, even in the midst of these insurgencies. Otherwise, its done. Perhaps the ACT of voting, will have the effect of deligitimizing the various insurgencies, to the point where the Iraq people will take care of the insurgencies themselves.

What else would?

Posted by: JC at August 15, 2004 11:30 AM

A Good Start !!!
All journalists (aka apologists for our enemies)have been ordered out of Najaf effective at once.
An action that is long overdue and sorely needed.×7

Posted by: dougf at August 15, 2004 11:49 AM

JC: I think the only real chance, is to have democratic elections, the sooner the better, even in the midst of these insurgencies. Otherwise, its done. Perhaps the ACT of voting, will have the effect of deligitimizing the various insurgencies

I don't know about that being the ONLY real chance, but it seems like a good idea to me if the voting infrastructure can be put into place quickly enough. That's not a quick chore.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2004 03:23 PM

Elections don't have to have full voter rolls. That's just an effete practice we do.

For a first election, it would be OK to use the rationing rolls. A certain number of people will have been killed and not removed from the rolls, and that could allow a little cheating. Better to have an early election with a little cheating than a late election.

Or here's another approach -- get somebody from each community chosen by acclaim for honesty, to be poll-watchers. Then mix them up, send them to places where they don't know anybody. Let anybody vote who wants to, and stamp their left hand with an indelible dye. The poll watchers attest that the votes are recorded honestly, nobody keeps track of who voted or how they voted. Nobody votes more than once. If a few foreigners vote they won't affect it too much.

Oh, they ought to have a plebiscite about whether the US military should leave now. Ask the army how long it would take to pull out, and promise that if they say they want us to we'll be out in that time. Maybe get two estimates, one for how long it takes if we're unopposed, another for how long if it's under fire. Announce that we'd aggressively respond to attacks and it would take us that much longer to leave.

Then people who just want us to go away would have an incentive not to attack us. People who want to kill american soldiers for whatever reason -- revenge for their relatives, or because they're anti-US terrorists or whatever, would keep fighting us.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 16, 2004 08:21 AM
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