The Mahdi Army's strategy memo; Update: Mahdi Army capos flee to Iran

As imagined by defense consultant Gary Anderson. I want to make sure people see it because I think it’s right on target (and, er, because it accords with my own speculation over the past few weeks). The LA Times has an interesting, but ultimately unpersuasive, piece considering alternative explanations for Sadr’s sudden “cooperative tone.” Question: does a man with his own army really care about his approval rating?

Allies of Sadr suggest he has begun heeding the appeals of other Shiite leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, to temper his actions in order to preserve unity in the Shiite-dominated government…

Others suggest the cleric has been mellowed by the realities of exercising power. The Sadr movement controls several government ministries, including Health and Transportation…

“If the electricity is cut, people come to Muqtada to complain,” said Ali Yasseri, a former editor of Al Hawza, a pro-Sadr newspaper…

Outside the capital, in Iraq’s southern Shiite heartland, some pro-Sadr groups that took control of provincial governments as reformers turned out to be corrupt and brutal, engaging in gun battles with Iraqi security forces in several cities…

The Al Mahdi army, the fast-growing and powerful militia Sadr launched as a social and political movement to protect impoverished Shiites, is now perceived in many areas as just another armed group terrorizing ordinary Iraqis.

Steny Hoyer hinted yesterday that Congress might bypass the anti-surge resolutions and the somewhat stronger medicine of denying funding for the new troops and instead proceed to the nuclear option: repealing or amending the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq. Captain Ed doubts it would be constitutional. Emily Bazelon thinks it would be:

In October 2002, Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq. It could repeal that resolution and pass another one saying no more war. Or it could reauthorize the use of force on a different and more limited basis. Sen. Robert Byrd argues for reauthorization. The idea is that the reasons we thought we were going to war—Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged operational relationship with al-Qaida—have nothing to do with the current conflict.

Two questions would follow from a de- or reauthorization of war resolution, as they would from any flexing of congressional war-power muscles. Would the president accept Congress’ judgment, and which branch of government would the courts side with if he didn’t? If Congress spoke clearly enough to repeal the authorization of force, it’s hard to imagine the other branches wouldn’t listen, no matter what the president’s commander-in-chief powers are. As law professor Neil Kinkopf of Georgia State University writes, “When Congress, acting in the vast areas of overlapping power, tells the President ‘no,’ the President must comply.” Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School, makes a more aggressive argument about the lack of continuing relevance of the 2002 authorization of force.

Ed conceives of the AUMF as equivalent to Senate confirmation of a presidential appointee: once they sign off on it, they’re basically stuck with it until the president pulls the plug. But the appointment power and Congress’s role in it falls under Article II; like the power of the purse, the power to declare war (or grant AUMFs, which derive from the war power) falls under Article I, presumably to be exercised and unexercised as Congress sees fit. I think they probably could constitutionally vote to deauthorize.

It’s an academic question, though, for three reasons. First, the Democrats don’t have the stones to do it. If they won’t defund the surge for fear of being seen as weak and sabotaging a last chance at victory, they’re not going to do this. Second, it would precipitate a constitutional crisis with Bush and Congress playing tug of war with 150,000 troops under fire. If you think faith in government is low now, imagine what the numbers would be if that repulsive spectacle played out. And third, the courts probably wouldn’t touch it. They’re wary of getting involved with foreign policy questions as is; the idea of five unelected justices dictating whether American troops stay or go in Iraq would be horrifying. They’d probably decline to consider the question, figuring that voters would punish the president and his party in the next election if he continued to wage war against Congress’s will.

Tasty food for thought, though.

Iraq’s chief of staff thinks his guys should be strong enough that can get out of there by 2008. I’ve got a feeling that’s what’s going to happen whether his guys are strong enough or not.

Update: Obviously the credibility of this story depends a lot upon which sect the Times’s source belongs to, but if he’s telling the truth, then that strategy memo was dead on.

Death squad leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop “surge” and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Among those said to have fled is Abu Deraa, the Shi’ite militia leader whose appetite for sectarian savagery has been compared to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed last year.

The former minister, who did not want to be named for security reasons, backed Sunni MPs’ claims that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, had encouraged their flight. He alleged that weapons belonging to Sadr’s Mahdi Army had been hidden inside the Iraqi interior ministry to prevent confiscation…

With Bush facing heavy criticism at home over the surge, death squad leaders have every incentive to wait out what could be the president’s last-ditch effort to pacify Baghdad.

Exit question: Is Mookie himself on the hit list?

According to a US source, American officials fear that Iran is following the path it took in Lebanon during the 1980s, when Islamists were encouraged to leave the relatively moderate Amal group for Hezbollah. The more militant Iranian-backed group went on to overtake Amal in popularity.

The Americans believe Iran is encouraging a similar split in Sadr’s forces by sponsoring the most extreme anti-Sunni death squad leaders.