This article represents yet another sorry entry in the NYT’s coverage of the Iraq war. EIGHT YEARS IN, the average report in this newspaper still repeats the same tired canards about Iraq and Moqtada al-Sadr.
– Sadr’s movement is the most popular INDIGENOUS force in the country (which is why he has been such a problem for the occupier). His faction has essentially won every major election cycle dating back to January 2005 — but we have worked hard with our former-exile allies to thwart the will of Iraqis, consistently marginalizing al-Sadr (getting al-Maliki to betray him after Sadr delivered the votes that made him prime minister in the first place — something al-Sadr has done TWICE now). After years of providing services and security to millions of Iraq’s most impoverished Shi’ites, Sadr is the only Iraqi leader who can put scores of thousands of followers on the streets at a moment’s notice. He has proven a formidable opponent for this reason, as well as the fact that his movement has demonstrated intelligence, discipline, and restraint (many of the worst crimes attributed to his militia were actually committed by the Badr Brigades, operated by America’s chief Shi’ite ally in Iraq, the Iranian-born Supreme Council).
– Of the main Shi’ite factions, Sadr’s is the LEAST beholden to Iran. It is our allies, the Supreme Council and DAWA, who have much stronger ties to Tehran — in fact, the Supreme Council is entirely an Iranian creation: birthed, constituted, and trained in Iran. The chief reason we have vilified and twice tried to assassinate al-Sadr isn’t that he’s an “Iranian agent” (like the NeoCons’ pal, Chalabi); it’s that he has repeatedly pushed for a timeline for U.S. withdrawal.
– The chief reason we have allied ourselves with SCIRI and DAWA is that they share our interest in carving the country into three semi-autonomous blocks. Because they would split the country in three (contrary to the will of most Iraqis), we tolerate their torturing, secret-policing, corruption, and other anti-democratic conduct, no matter that their government increasingly resembles that of Saddam Hussein. (We didn’t even complain too vociferously when al-Maliki targeted some 600 leaders of the Sunni “Awakening” movement that had routed al Qaeda the previous year, despite the fact that we considered them some of our best allies of the entire war.)
– Far from the worst sectarian leader in the country, Sadr has repeatedly demonstrated solidarity with Iraq’s Sunnis — most notably when his “Mahdi Army” clashed with the U.S. in 2004, protesting Bush’s politically-motivated, militarily-foolish assault on Fallujah, in which U.S. bombing killed upwards of 250 civilians (early reports indicated more than 600 people killed, prompting al-Sadr to act). The U.S. military had advised against the assault on this Sunni city of 250,000 residents, but Bush wanted blood (and theater) after some Blackwater mercenaries were hung off a bridge to cheering crowds in an incident reminiscent of the 1990s fiasco in Somalia.
– Probably the most ludicrous thing Mr. Schmidt writes is that al-Sadr’s militia was “largely defeated” a few years ago. This claim is pure nonsense. The campaign to which Schmidt refers was a complete debacle for the Iraqi military, which was routed in a matter of days. Sadr’s JAM, assisted by Fadhila, controlled every checkpoint in Basra (Iraq’s key oil port and second largest city) in less than a week. American military commanders expressed frustration at the lack of coordination by the army units deployed by the IUG, not to mention the mass defections (funny: Iraqi Shi’ites turned out to be disinclined to go to war with their fellow Iraqi Shi’ites). The end result, U.S. forces moved in and Sadr’s forces melted away, as they had before, to fight another day.
Like it or not, Moqtada al-Sadr is one of the most important players in Iraq and will likely remain so. If we really want peace and stability for that country — which we certainly OWE it — then we need to stop caricaturing its true leaders in our leading newspapers. I’m not saying we need to sing Moqtada’s praises, but we should at least stop reiterating the propaganda that serves as an impediment to working with him in the future.
America has lost an incalculable amount in this war, in terms of lives, treasure, credibility, and moral standing. We should stop fighting the will of the Iraqi people, including in our power-servicing news outlets. Iraqis will determine what happens with their oil. They’ve already decided that their relationship with Iran is at least as important as their relationship with us. With no less than 100,000 Iraqis dead — and possibly several times that figure — as a result of the Bush administration’s greed, recklessness, and mendacity, it’s time for Americans to start being reasonable and HONEST.
The time for cardboard-cutout “bad guys” is past. At long last, it’s time to be halfway decent human beings. There’s still a chance to reclaim our honor… but it will require our humility.