Totten: Next door to the Mahdi Army

Another good one, filed from the same Baghdad neighborhood, in fact, that was the subject of his upbeat piece a few weeks ago about how the surge was pacifying (parts of) the city. This one’s bleaker. It opens at an American base which oddly hasn’t come under mortar attacks from the locals. I’ll leave you to follow the link to find out why. Here’s the meat of the piece:

I asked several people what might happen if Moqtada al Sadr was pulled out of the Iranian orbit and flipped to the American side, as the tribal leaders of Anbar Province have been brought around to the American side. Sadr would still live in fear of Saddam Hussein if the Americans never arrived and destroyed the old government. A peaceful coexistence of some sort is at least theoretically possible if he can be peeled away from Iran with money and promises.

“I think the reason the U.S. hasn’t killed Sadr yet is because they are trying to flip him to their side,” said Hammer. “All it takes is money. It’s all about money money money for these guys. He has only 16 percent support among the Shia. I am a Shia. I know lots of Shia in Sadr City who hate and fear him, but he has lots of power and influence.”

“If we flip Sadr Iraq might very well reach a tipping point,” Master Sergeant Tyler told me. “The war might be all but technically over. But there would be some blowback from the Sunni side at first.”

How would flipping Sadr constitute a tipping point, though, unless you were prepared to pay him off forever, long after we’ve withdrawn? Totten compares the Mahdi Army to Hezbollah but he might also reasonably have compared them to a mafia family. If they stand to control Iraq’s oil revenue after we’ve left by liquidating their opponents, why wouldn’t they do so?

The answer, maybe, lies in this clip. Ware makes the point that top priority for Bush right now is simply being able to leave the country with it intact, not necessarily in a condition that will ensure its ultimate survival (which Ware very clearly is pessimistic about). Maybe that’s what Tyler meant: flipping Sadr might provide a temporary peace among all parties which at least would give them a chance to reconcile fully, however unlikely it is that that might happen. Seems self-delusional but it’s the best we can do. Note Ware’s point about Anbar, too, and how tenuous is the “flip” that’s happened there. Petraeus is reportedly thinking of pulling troops out of there, possibly to redeploy them to other hot spots inside the country. Quote:

In a news conference last month, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, the commander of U.S. forces in Al Anbar, cautioned against cutting back forces there too quickly.

Gaskin argued that the added forces had allowed the Marines to eliminate havens used by the insurgent group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq.

A “persistent presence” of U.S. forces, he said, would help give Iraqi security forces more experience and confidence, and the ability to keep militants out.

“It takes time to gain experience,” he said. “I see that experience happening every day, but I don’t see it happening overnight. I believe it’s another couple of years in order to get them to do that — and that’s not a political answer, that’s a military answer.”

Right, it’s not a political answer. Which brings us to Ware.

Update: A new study released today in Germany says it’s federalization or bust.