Get ready for more celebrations of Moqtada al-Sadr in the American media. Earlier today, he signed over control of Sadr City to the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad, effectively ending his grip on any territory in Iraq. In the document, the Sadrists recognize the elected government as the sole legitimate authority in Sadr City and everywhere else in Iraq:
“We have signed the agreement today,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, the deputy parliamentary speaker from the main Shiite political bloc, United Iraqi Alliance.
Al-Attiyah said the cease-fire went into effect on Sunday and Iraqi forces will be allowed to enter the area as early as Wednesday and “take over the security there.”
The statement said “the government will decide on the number of Iraqi forces to be deployed in Sadr City to achieve security, in order to refrain from asking help from foreign forces,” a reference to the U.S. military.
“Any attack against residential areas, government offices and the Green Zone are prohibited from Sadr City or from another area,” the agreement said.
The cease-fire stipulates that Iraqi forces have the right to “impose the law and to pursue illegal situations.”
The government will allow the Mahdis to retain personal small arms, but anyone with anything heavier will be subject to arrest or attack. Those efforts continued today to clear Sadr City of splinter elements who have not accepted the cease-fire, with several more radicals killed by Iraqi and American forces. The agreement will not keep Maliki from imposing his will on the Baghdad suburb any more than a similar capitulation did in Basra, where Maliki uprooted the Mahdis from control after several years.
American media outlets have been surprisingly quiet about the latest developments. In Basra, they couldn’t wait to proclaim Maliki’s operation a disaster and the battle a Sadr victory. Unfortunately for them, Sadr sued for peace and agreed to dump his own militias in exchange for political crumbs. In Sadr City, where he based his political power, he has done exactly the same, winning only a reprieve for his forces while conceding the entire territory to the central government.
Expect the Basra Narrative to heavily emphasize that Sadr “allowed” forces into Sadr City and the government to re-open its offices in the area, rather than Sadr capitulating the inevitable.
Update: In the Credit Where Credit’s Due Department, the New York Times reports the success in Basra on its front page today:
Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old.
In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.
Just as in Baghdad, Iraqi and Western officials emphasize that the gains here are “fragile,” like the newly planted roadside saplings that fail to conceal mounds of garbage and pools of foul-smelling water in the historic port city’s slums.
Among the many uncertainties are whether the government, criticized for incompetence at the start of the operation, can maintain the high level of troops here. But in interviews across Basra, residents overwhelmingly reported a substantial improvement in their everyday lives.
The report still contains some silliness, such as the postulation that hope for Sadr City got “undercut” by a roadside IED explosion yesterday. One bomb does not undercut the prospects for success in a military operation, a lesson one hoped the Times learned from its initial reporting on Basra. Give the Paper of Record some credit, though, for delivering an in-depth look at the success of the earlier Maliki mission, even if it came more than two weeks after the Times of London wrote essentially the same article.