First I’m going to give you the news, then I’m going to ask you for money.
Newsweek has a superb spread on “the most dangerous man in Iraq,” whose continued existence is the gravest mistake we’ve made there. Never mind how long the piece is; find the time to read it. We saw this train coming from a mile away, but for one reason or another we kept ignoring it — first because we were preoccupied with the Sunni jihad, then because Sistani intervened when we had him in our crosshairs in Najaf, and finally because we thought we could turn him into a political animal a la the IRA. The result is a mafia state where his militias own the streets and his party owns the seats in parliament on which Maliki’s government depends for its majority. It’s a full-bore train wreck and it ends in a Catch-22:
If American troops leave Iraq quickly, militia leaders like Sadr will be unleashed as never before, and full-scale civil war could follow. But the longer the American occupation lasts, the less popular America gets—and the more popular Sadr and his ilk become.
There’s a third option, i.e., crush him now. But it’s not clear that we have the manpower to do so given the size of his following, and at the very least al-Sadr provides a measure of something that’s almost completely extinct in Iraq: control over the violence. The vacuum created by killing him might be filled by Abu Deraa, the “Shiite Zarqawi” known for drilling holes in people’s heads. Even if we do have the manpower, an all-out war on the Sadrists would antagonize Shiites who depend upon the Mahdi army for the basic social services it supplies to complement the gangster violence it doles out to its enemies — and if that reminds you of another fundamentalist Shiite organization with grand designs on power, it should. Like Hezbollah, they even have their own TV station, sort of:
Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms.
The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday…
Al-Maliki’s administration acknowledged it was powerless to interrupt the pro-Sadr program on the official Iraqiya channel, during which Sadr City residents shouted, “There is no government! There is no state!”
When Maliki stopped by Sadr City today to express his condolences for the victims of last week’s mega-attack, the crowd stoned him.
Solutions? Cheney thinks they might lie with the world’s most notorious state sponsor of terror. Proud, avowed Bush-hater Jonathan Chait has a better idea: he wants to bring back Saddam to crush everyone. Seriously. Why Saddam instead of a Sunni or secular strongman of our choosing? Ostensibly because Saddam’s good at what he does; actually because it would add a deliciously ironic note to America’s humiliation for Chait and the left to savor. Jules Crittenden, meanwhile, thinks it’s time for us to double down, expand the size of the army dramatically, and go for broke. That’s an attractive idea, but Crittenden also thinks most Iraqis still want us there. Not so. As Fareed Zakaria says,
[B]oth sides now see American troops as the problem. The Shiite ruling coalition and the Sunni insurgency both believe that if only the United States were to get out of the way, they could defeat their enemies outright.
If so, the Sunnis are idiots, and they might very well learn that to the tune of electric drills.
The long and short of it, as John Roberts told Howard Kurtz today, is that things are “an absolute mess”:
Howie, I had a perception of Iraq going in, and it was the first time I’d been there in three-and-a-half years, I got out a couple of days after the Saddam statue fell, after the initial invasion. So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as — I guess you could say, as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.
The place is a mess — it’s an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area, as a Western journalist, without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever.
The amount of death that’s on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level.
So there’s the news. Now I’m going to ask you for money. Not for me. For Zeyad’s brother, Nabil:
I’ve been trying to convince my parents not to send my brother Nabil to school. Young men of his age are the prime target for abductions and reprisal attacks. There hasn’t been much progress in getting him out of the country yet, but if you want to help me with it, please go to his blog and hit the Paypal button.
An op-ed in today’s WaPo calls schools “Iraq’s deadliest zones.” Which makes perfect, perverted sense, actually.
Nabil’s blog is here. He lives close enough to the madness that he’s able to snap photos of bodies in the street at night after they’ve been dumped there by death squads. His archives go back to the early days of the war in 2003; the post about Bush’s Thanksgiving visit that year will break your heart.
His PayPal button is in the right sidebar on his site. I didn’t buy anything on black Friday so I’m going to send him what I would have spent. I gently suggest that you do so too if you can spare it. Things are about to get very, very bad, and maybe at least we can save one person in the blog family.
Speaking of which, Zeyad says he hasn’t heard from Omar or Mohammed from Iraq the Model and thinks they might have left their area. Anyone know anything?
Update: Iraq the Model is back today.