Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cast a Giant Shadow

Although I have long recognized the need to neutralize Moqtada Sadr's militias, I worried that Sadr had enough support to make taking him out directly by arrest or killing too dangerous to contemplate. For some time, I just couldn't conclude from what I read whether Sadr was too popular to target. I recently concluded that Sadr is weak enough to go after and that doing so won't cause a mass movement of support for him that also considers the government and our forces as enemies. Sadr's support was far more illusion than real.

If we take out Sadr's militia which is killing even innocent Sunni Arabs, and if the Iraqi government can provide protection to the Shias, then the Sunnis might feel secure enough to finally surrender and end their support for Sunni terrorists who pose as Sunni protectors.

I don't feel so bad about my long indecision because of my doubt about the apparent evidence I could see in public sources. I wasn't alone. Frederick Kagan, too, was in doubt:

"Attempting to clear Sadr City would almost certainly force the [Mahdi army] into [a direct] confrontation with American troops," they wrote in a January report for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "It would also do enormous damage to [al-Maliki's] political base and would probably lead to the collapse of the Iraqi government."

Now at least one of the authors questions that view. In an interview yesterday, Kagan said some early signs of success, including al-Sadr's recent disappearance from the public scene and successful sweeps of other heavily Shiite neighborhoods nearby, suggest that U.S. forces could move into Sadr City earlier than Keane and Kagan had advocated."

It appears that I overestimated the Sadrists and underestimated Maliki," Kagan said. "Our troops have operated in these neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods are not resisting."

We still don't want to treat the Shia neighborhoods like Fallujah, but we have room to maneuver. If we do it quietly enough and with minimal firepower, we can probably pick apart the leadership of the death squads and neutralize them as anything other than local protective forces.

We need to exploit his apparent weakness now and pile on the negative impressions with our own information campaign to show him as a coward, Iranian tool, and corrupt fool. If we don't get him now--our third opportunity since Baghdad fell--he could regain his popularity and make my original worry true

Phase VI victory depends on neutralizing Sadr.