Moqtada pursues the same occupation, but with more vigor
As Don Rumsfeld sounds more and more like Robert McNamara — the blustery, dogged, pre-“apology” McNamara — what the current secretary of defense says publicly about Iraq is increasingly irrelevant.
What Moqtada al-Sadr says, on the other hand, is increasingly important. Muckety-muck of the Mahdi militia, he’s been the bane of arrogant U.S. policymakers like Rumsfeld, Doug Feith, and Jerry Bremer. They’ve long ignored evidence that he’s consistently been more popular with Iraqis than various U.S. puppets like Ayad Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi.
Anthony Shadid writes in a brilliant piece in this morning’s Washington Post that Sadr stands at the head of “a protest movement in a country with plenty to protest about.”
The country’s shattering into militias, as Lebanon once did.
What makes Shadid’s story so good is that he has humanized rebellious Iraqis. I don’t mean that he’s glorifying them, only that he’s delving into what makes them tick. The early days of war reporting in Iraq were filled with nothing but portraits of our soldiers fighting a faceless enemy. Now there are faces. Shadid’s story is a sharp profile and a history lesson, starting with this:
In the tumult that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003, he hit the streets with a clique of fellow Shiite Muslim clerics to organize what became Iraq’s first postwar popular movement. Their symbol was Moqtada Sadr, a young, radical clergyman and son of a revered ayatollah. The next year, Araji emerged as the group’s public face, as it twice fought U.S. troops. He and others were arrested, and for nine months he languished in U.S. custody in Abu Ghraib prison, then at Camp Bucca.
Now, as the country enters a time as politically uncertain as any since the fall of President Saddam Hussein, Araji is a free man. So are a handful of Sadr’s other closest, most dynamic aides, men in their thirties who have helped shape the organization’s combustible mix of Iraqi and Arab nationalism, millenarian religious ideology, grass-roots protest and gun culture. With customary bravado, Araji and the others today are sending a message: They are ready to make up for lost time.
Much of the U.S. “strategy” regarding Sadr was foolish. Naomi Klein drew a fine portrait of that period in 2004 in her “Baghdad Year Zero” piece last year in Harper’s:
Two years after our invasion, our abrasive occupation is the only thing that Iraqis can agree on: They hate it. The level of their discontent — not we or our plans for belatedly training their troops — will determine the timetable for our departure.
Shadid weaves the personal stories of Sadr’s Mahdi movement people into the current combustible climate. The agitprop of the Bush regime doesn’t take into account the nuances of Iraq. Shadid does:
Ahead are difficult questions, namely about Sadr’s still-undeclared stance on the proposed constitution: Support could anger Sunni allies, but opposition might endanger his Shiite support. One aide hinted that Sadr may leave his position ambiguous. But for the moment, Sadr officials say they are reaping the benefits of their position as a protest movement in a country with plenty to protest about.
The Bush regime, fearing a fragging, has retreated to its bunker, emerging only to talk to troops and other friendly audiences.
Yesterday, for example, Rumsfeld was at Fort Irwin, California, talking to soldiers in training for desert warfare. Sergeant Sara Wood, one of the Pentagon’s permanently embedded reporters, writes this morning:
“People who want to toss in the towel were wrong yesterday, they’re wrong today, and they’ll be wrong tomorrow,” he said.
I told you that Rumsfeld sounds like the old McNamara.
Through this crucial period, the Democrats are missing in action — Hillary Clinton‘s showing her true colors as a hawk. So it’s up to moderate Republicans like Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to call the war for what it is: a debacle.
The mostly somnolent New York Times still runs predictably establishmentarian stories from Iraq, for the most part. But back in the arts-fartsy pages, Frank Rich is regularly splenetic. On August 28, in “The Vietnamization of Bush’s Vacation,” Rich wrote:
While Bremer is back home in America writing his memoirs, it’s Sadr who’s standing up. We never could make him stand down.