Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Missed Him By That Much

Patrick Cockburn, on the recently revealed U.S. attempt to assassinate Muqtada al-Sadr:

[Mowaffak al-]Rubai'e had gone to Najaf in August 2004 to try to mediate an end to the fighting. He met Mr Sadr who agreed to a set of conditions to end the crisis. "He actually signed the agreement with his own handwriting," said Dr Rubai'e. "He wanted the inner Najaf, the old city, around the shrine to be treated like the Vatican."

Having returned to Baghdad to show the draft document to Iyad Allawi, who was prime minister at the time, Dr Rubai'e went back to Najaf to make a final agreement with Mr Sadr.

It was agreed that the last meeting would take place in the house in Najaf of Muqtada's father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr who had been murdered by Saddam's gunmen with two of his sons five years before. Dr Rubai'e and other mediators started for the house. As they did so they saw the US Marines open up an intense bombardment of the house and US Special Forces also heading for it. But the attack was a few minutes premature. Mr Sadr was not yet in the house and managed to escape.

Although Dr Rubai'e, as Iraqi National Security Adviser since 2004 and earlier a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is closely associated with the American authorities in Baghdad, he has no doubt about what happened.

He sees the negotiations as part of a charade to lure Mr Sadr, who is normally very careful about his own security, to a house where he could be eliminated.

The cloddishness on display here, the utter ignorance of history and symbolism, is no less staggering for being unsurprising. Attempting to kill Muqtada as he entered the house of his revered, martyred father Grand Ayatollah Sadeq al-Sadr(assassinated by Saddam in 1999), under a flag of truce, in Shi'ism's holiest city...Like so much else having to do with this war, it seems like it could have been designed in a lab to produce precisely the opposite of the the desired result: Increased distrust of the U.S. Coalition by majority Shi'is, massively enhanced street cred for Muqtada.

Even if the assassination attempt had succeeded, I doubt it would have made things better, and could very likely have made things worse. The success of Muqtada has less to do with his own political acumen, though it's become increasingly apparent that that is a factor, more with the deep resonance among poor Shi'is of his father's populist-nationalist program, which even before 2004 was supported by a large network of clerical activists. At least, in Muqtada, you have a figure who can draw together a substantial majority of the groups identifying as "Sadrist," rather than it devolving into a contest between Sadrist leaders to see who's more hardcore.

Also, the Israelis have been killing "key" Palestinian leaders for decades; if you want to know how well that's worked out, note that they've been doing it for decades.