Independent: Secret U.S. plot to kill Sadr! ... er, three years ago

The plot was supposedly hatched and executed in August or September 2004, during the standoff between U.S. troops and the Mahdi Army at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Here’s the headline the Independent chose for the story as seen on the front page of tomorrow’s edition:

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No mention whatsoever of the year. Very clearly, the editors want you to glance at that page and conclude that there’s a plot afoot to kill Sadr now. In fact, the year isn’t mentioned in the article itself until the third paragraph. Look hard again at that image of the front page; only the first two paragraphs are included in the excerpt. Quite a coincidence.

I expect nothing less, though, considering that the author is Patrick Cockburn, who was also responsible for that shameless cover story last month that recycled a months-old scoop by NPR about U.S. operations in Irbil and tied it — with no evidence whatsoever — to Iran’s capture of the British sailors. He’s recycling someone else’s scoop here too, although at least this time he’s willing to give proper credit. If, that is, you’re willing to read the whole article: the fact that the secret plot was already revealed in Ali Allawi’s new book about Iraq isn’t mentioned here until the 19th paragraph. Which would seem to make this a funny article to be trumpeting as an “exclusive,” but then what do I know? I’m just a blogger.

In case that’s not enough dishonesty for you, Cockburn’s source for the secret plot is Iraqi national security advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, who was also NSA back in 2004 during the Najaf standoff — until he was fired by Iyad Allawi for being too soft on Sadr. Say, al-Rubaie wouldn’t lie about something having to do with Sadr, would he? Why, yes, actually, he would: remember, he was the witness at Saddam’s execution who called around to all the U.S. cable news channels after it was over to say how proud he was of the professionalism the executioners displayed. Three days later, after the cell phone video emerged showing them to be nothing but masked gangsters who chanted Sadr’s name during the prayer before the trap fell, he conveniently changed his tune and pronounced himself disgusted and horrified by the unprofessionalism he saw. You trust him to give you the hard truth now about what happened in 2004 given how much greater Sadr’s influence has become and how conveniently al-Rubaie’s story makes him an innocent victim? Me neither.

Skip the Independent crap and read this WaPo story instead. I wrote last week about the rumors that Sadr’s been trying to make nice with the Sunnis and purge the Mahdi Army of its more “vigorous” enforcers. WaPo says it’s all true, and it’s not just the Sunnis he’s trying to buddy up with:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr’s political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq’s majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum…

Sadr’s cooperation with the [security] plan, his aides said, is based partly on political battles over Iraq policy in Washington — a sign, he believes, that the occupation is in its final stages. His aides say he is open to meeting U.S. politicians who are not part of the Bush administration, particularly those calling for a U.S. withdrawal.

“We are not anti-American. We think the Americans have an important role in rebuilding Iraq, but as companies, not as an army,” Obaidi said. “We can open a new channel with the Democrats, even some of the Republicans.”…

Sadr is now dispatching [his aide, Ahmed] Shaibani to speak with Sunni religious leaders in Syria, Egypt and across the Persian Gulf to seek their help in approaching Sunnis inside Iraq.

I can only assume this is a ploy to rope the dopey Sunnis into joining forces to push for American withdrawal, with the temporary alliance no doubt expected to disintegrate rapidly once we’re gone. Read the very end of the story to see what a Sunni woman stuck in a Shiite neighborhood think of Muqtada’s intersectarian outreach. Quote of the day: “They want to know who the Sunnis are, so they can start butchering people at their own pace.”