Sadr admits failure in Iraq

posted at 2:50 pm on March 20, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

When Moqtada al-Sadr extended his cease-fire in Iraq last month, many wondered what he had in mind. Did he intend to bide his time, purge his movement of dissenters, or simply withdraw from public life to study Islam in Iran? Almost two weeks ago, Sadr himself provided an answer. He failed:

“I have failed to liberate Iraq, and transform its society into an Islamic society.”
– Moqtada al-Sadr, Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, March 8, 2008

Moqtada al-Sadr — the radical cleric dubbed “The Most Dangerous Man in Iraq” by a Newsweek cover story in December 2006 — has just unilaterally extended the ceasefire he imposed on his Mahdi Army militia last summer. And on the eve of the Iraq War’s fifth anniversary, Sadr also issued a somber but dramatic statement. He not only declared that he had failed to transform Iraq, but also lamented the new debates and divisions within his own movement. Explaining his marginalization, Sadr all but confessed his growing isolation: “One hand cannot clap alone.”

What happened? Over the past five years, Sadr has been one of the most persistent and insurmountable challenges for the U.S. Leveraging his family’s prestige among the disaffected Shiite underclass, he asserted his power by violently intimidating rival clerics, agitating against the U.S. occupation, and using force to establish de facto control over Baghdad’s Sadr City (named after his father, and home to two million Shiites on the east bank of the Tigris) and large swaths of southern Iraq.

Sadr failed for a number of reasons, but chief among them was the change in American strategy in early 2007. Until the US began to fight with a counterinsurgency strategy, basic security needs had gone unmet, especially in Baghdad. Sadr filled the vacuum with his Mahdi Army, providing protection for the Shi’ite residents, especially in Sadr City. The US and the fledgling Iraqi security services were either unable or unwilling to protect Shi’ites against Sunni terrorists, but Sadr’s forces shielded them and allowed them to fight back against their tormentors.

Unfortunately for Sadr, two things occurred. His Mahdi militiamen applied their radical Islamist impulses to their own communities. While the Shi’a bitterly resented the Sunnis, they did not want to trade their relatively secular governance for a strict imposition of shari’a — coincidentally, the same problem al-Qaeda in Iraq had in the Sunni areas they controlled. Shi’ites under the protection of the Mahdis came to resent their brutality almost as much as the Sunnis who attacked them.

When the US finally changed strategies and put boots on the street in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Shi’ites no longer needed the Mahdis for protection. They didn’t have to choose between two different sets of oppressors, and responded to the professionalism of the US military and the growing Iraqi security forces we trained. The entire raison d’etre of the Mahdis and of Sadr dissipated in 2007, leaving Sadr with a damaged political base and no particular way to muscle his way back into power. Nouri al-Maliki realized this and dumped Sadr for the slightly more moderate Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, which has been Sadr’s political and militia opponent in the south since the invasion.

By the time 2008 arrived, Sadr had failed, and he knew it. Ending the cease-fire would only have left his organization vulnerable to coordinated attack from the central government and the more robust American forces. Worse, it would have forced new leadership to the fore in the Mahdi Army, leadership that Sadr would not be able to control. The surge has completely wrong-footed Sadr and left him with few options except in the religious sphere, where he will not cause much trouble.

This could still change, as Dan Senor and Roman Martinez warn. An eruption of sectarian violence could rebirth the conditions which gave Sadr power for a period of time. With more Iraqi troops coming on line and the Americans shifting to logistics and support, as well as rebuilding, that seems less and less likely.

Via Michael Goldfarb at the essential Weekly Standard blog, who notes: “[I]f Sadr required chaos in order to leverage support for his Islamist agenda, as Senor and Martinez suggest, then the surge has clearly chopped off that other hand.”


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He failed doesnt mean Iran still doesnt want to influence Iraq. They just cant do it through mookie

William Amos on March 20, 2008 at 2:54 PM

Since you can’t believe a thing Sadr says does that mean he’s not a failure?

TooTall on March 20, 2008 at 2:54 PM

Sadr and his little band of Madhi men should have been destroyed years ago. It’s still not too late…..

jimbo2008 on March 20, 2008 at 2:54 PM

“I have failed to liberate Iraq, and transform its society into an Islamic society.”
– Moqtada al-Sadr, Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, March 8, 2008

All he has to do be patient, wait a year or so and wish and pray for a Democrat to win the US presidency, and his luck might turn around.

Then again, we might elect a Republican.

Then, he’s screwed.

wise_man on March 20, 2008 at 2:55 PM

Nice job Ed!

budorob on March 20, 2008 at 2:57 PM

Sadr failed for a number of reasons, but chief among them was the change in American strategy in early 2007.

You mean the strategy that the Democrats tried to thwart by legislative maneuvering, propoganda, and attempts to whip up an anti-military frenzy? THAT strategy?

highhopes on March 20, 2008 at 3:00 PM

I’ll bet Blinky Pelosi is on the phone right now, trying to talk him out of his pessimism.

Cicero43 on March 20, 2008 at 3:00 PM

I guess he either didn’t get the Democrats talking points or else misread them, both Hillary and Barack have said that we’ve failed.

rbj on March 20, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Sadr and his little band of Madhi men should have been destroyed years ago. It’s still not too late…..

jimbo2008 on March 20, 2008 at 2:54 PM

TRUE DAT!

Find their general location ,use daisy cutters till done. rebuild and serve liberated.

TheSitRep on March 20, 2008 at 3:02 PM

Some pics for Mookie!

FAIL

FAIL

All aboard the FAILboat, Mookie!

EPIC FAIL

doubleplusundead on March 20, 2008 at 3:04 PM

I know they usually give it to the president-elect in election years, but Petraeus MUST be Time`s 2008 “Person of the Year.”

ThePrez on March 20, 2008 at 3:07 PM

This of course destroys the libtard premise that the surge has achieved positive results because the Mookster declared a cease fire instead of vice versa.

Damn it must suck to be a left-wing defeatist. Now with the chunky monkey crying about his failures who are the dims going to root for?

Alamo on March 20, 2008 at 3:11 PM

Maybe he can get back in the publishing business.

Than again, maybe not.

Watchman on March 20, 2008 at 3:14 PM

Sounds like Tom Hagen left a horse head in Mookie’s bed.

Limerick on March 20, 2008 at 3:28 PM

Breaking News: Leader Admits Iraq Failure, Starts Withdrawal from Unwinnable Quagmire

BohicaTwentyTwo on March 20, 2008 at 3:32 PM

How’s the food poisoning Moqtada?

danking70 on March 20, 2008 at 3:35 PM

ThePrez on March 20, 2008 at 3:07 PM

Speaking of which ….. if Petraeus is commanding multinational forces, why does he not have a fifth star?

Harpoon on March 20, 2008 at 3:44 PM

No….no….no….
.
.
.
Hillary said we can’t win this war……
.
.
Odd…..we believe Sadr before we believe Hillary.
.
.

subbottomfeeder on March 20, 2008 at 3:44 PM

Sadr is saying that to get the moonbats out to vote for the surrendercrats so the troops will get out so Sadr can get control. Seriously…it’s strategery.

ihasurnominashun on March 20, 2008 at 3:49 PM

This makes me very happy. I still think he should be captured and tried, but not necessarily executed. I have something against executing surrenderers. Now if we have to drag him out of a spider whole that’s different.

Just another step closer to a stabilized region. It’s incredible how the current democrat leadership can’t see the benefits of having a stable Iraq.

beefytee on March 20, 2008 at 3:51 PM

No….no….no….
.
.
.
Hillary said we can’t win this war……
.
.
Odd…..we believe Sadr before we believe Hillary.
.
.

subbottomfeeder on March 20, 2008 at 3:44 PM

No – we believe the truth over what Hillary says. Evidence shows his analysis is pretty accurate at this time.

Corsair on March 20, 2008 at 3:54 PM

You mean the strategy that the Democrats tried to thwart by legislative maneuvering, propoganda, and attempts to whip up an anti-military frenzy? THAT strategy?

That is the first thing I thought of. I hope the republican party plans on hanging this around the neck of congresional democrats. EVERY local election should have a big “WE TOLD YOU SO” front and center and THIS should be read into the congressional record when Gen. Petreus comes to testify next.

I am tired of the Democrats making all the big noise with thier dumb ideas on how to run foreign policy and when the Bush white house DOES get something right it is like they are too shy to frigging SAY anything to anybody.

SilntThnkr on March 20, 2008 at 4:00 PM

It still would be nice to see him killed (in a lawful military operation where American soldiers or marines are forced to return fire strictly according to the applicable rule of engagement). But then dead would still be dead.

tommylotto on March 20, 2008 at 4:05 PM

Good. Now kill him.

LtE126 on March 20, 2008 at 4:11 PM

It’s amazing. Sadr admits defeat, Osama barely mentions Iraq in his latest audio tape, yet in this country Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid remained unmoved and say we have lost.

Jim-Rose on March 20, 2008 at 4:12 PM

Good. Now kill him.

LtE126 on March 20, 2008 at 4:11 PM

how Christian of you.

full disclosure, I am not a Christian.

beefytee on March 20, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Anyone want to playback Harry Reid’s comments about the war is lost?

Anybody?

Nah, ………. neither do I.

I think I’ll re-read ““an extraordinary leader and a wonderful advocate of our military.” “

Seven Percent Solution on March 20, 2008 at 4:25 PM

LtE126 on March 20, 2008 at 4:11 PM

Well that’s not good COIN warfare. You only need to kill the ones who will not stop fighting.

BohicaTwentyTwo on March 20, 2008 at 4:40 PM

Maybe Barack can bring him some HOPE.

CP on March 20, 2008 at 4:55 PM

I know they usually give it to the president-elect in election years, but Petraeus MUST be Time`s 2008 “Person of the Year.”

ThePrez on March 20, 2008 at 3:07 PM

Petraeus should have been the Time’s 2007 person of the year, instead it was given to that back stabbing, back slider into communism Putin!

Liberty or Death on March 20, 2008 at 5:02 PM

I never understood his beef. We liberated his people and allowed his henchmen to pull the lever of Sadaam’s lynching while shouting Muqtada Muqtada Muqtada!!! He got justice for his pops, but was that good enough, nooooooo. He had to pop off at the mouth about the new islamic sharia state he was going to create while fighting us with a rag tag militia.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 20, 2008 at 5:06 PM

I don’t think you can discount his stupidity, either. The ITM guys commented on his borderline IQ as he was rising–he had a pretty low reputation before Iran picked him as the head bad guy.

PattyJ on March 20, 2008 at 5:08 PM

remember the dude who couldn’t shoot and burned his hand on the barrel of the gun?

beefytee on March 20, 2008 at 5:15 PM

this is huge news that should be plastered to whatever walls are available.
people need to know this.

jimmer on March 20, 2008 at 5:35 PM

Well, at least Harry Reid now has company…

CliffHanger on March 20, 2008 at 5:42 PM

Wonder what page this will make in the NYT? Not in the first 10, if it gets in at all.

cs89 on March 20, 2008 at 5:59 PM

Wonder what page this will make in the NYT? Not in the first 10, if it gets in at all.

cs89 on March 20, 2008 at 5:59 PM

When I saw the headline I was thinking “WHY is this not on the front page of every newspaper in the country?”

knivek on March 20, 2008 at 6:04 PM

I would like to see McCain spread this wonderful news, & that is exactly what it is. Just a couple of years ago, I couldn’t believe that we were allowing “mookie” to spread his bile. Now, he’s quit.

All of America should know this & celebrate it. McCain could really look Presidential if he told this story to the American people. But, will he?!?

stvdog on March 20, 2008 at 6:27 PM

Who airbrushed the zits off Moqi’s face?

Bicyea on March 20, 2008 at 8:37 PM

Nice analysis Ed, I can’t think of anything to add.

Hog Wild on March 20, 2008 at 8:47 PM

General Sanchez may have had his faults, but he was correct about one thing: He said al-Sadr needed either to be killed or captured.

Unfortunately, neither Rumsfeld nor Gates got it.

sanantonian on March 20, 2008 at 10:55 PM

I don’t want to rain on any parades, but when we do leave, be it 6 months 6 years or 60 years, these bastards or new ones just like them will go at each other like a herd of spider monkeys on meth.

Alden Pyle on March 20, 2008 at 11:36 PM

Predator, los!

Johan Klaus on March 20, 2008 at 11:58 PM

Petraeus should have been the Time’s 2007 person of the year, instead it was given to that back stabbing, back slider into communism Putin!

Liberty or Death on March 20, 2008 at 5:02 PM

Nitpick – Putin didn’t backslide into or from anything. He was a Communist during the Cold War (the head of the KGB, in case anyone forgot), he was a Communist after the Cold War ended, and he’s a Communist now.

Anyway, if Sadr’s going to put up and shut up, good for him – he has teh self-prezrvashun skilz. COIN rule #1: Always leave room for your enemy to become your friend. It means you have one less person to kill.

However, the corollary to COIN rule #2 is that your enemy can’t continue to pursue the same agenda after he becomes your friend. So if Sadr continues towards trying to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, he may yet find himself with a case of lead poisoning. Bullets in the head tend to do that.

Math_Mage on March 21, 2008 at 6:08 AM

Reid and Pelosi must continue to deny success in Iraq. They have no choice. That is their cross.

OldEnglish on March 21, 2008 at 7:39 AM

Oooops, that’d be a corollary to COIN rule #1. Whatev.

Math_Mage on March 21, 2008 at 8:39 AM