Wednesday, November 19, 2008
A Call to Arms
As Reported through the New York Times New Service, the recently inconspicuous Muqtada al-Sadr has thrust himself back into focus by calling for an armed resistance against any agreement allowing the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. This proclamation comes as the probable vote by the Iraqi Parliament on a new, U.S. S.O.F.A nears. The cleric al-Sadar makes the clear demand of removing all occupying forces and denying access and/or the formation of bases for any foreign forces. Though having maintained a low profile in recent years, and perhaps waning in his political influence, al-Sadr's militant proclamation cannot be quickly dismissed.
To review: al-Sadr, a prominent Shi'a cleric, rose to power in the chaotic political vacuum following the collapse of the Hussein regime. In 2004, al-Sadr initiated an armed uprising, targeting U.S. forces as well as anti-Shi'a elements which at the time were freely operating with impunity. Al-Sadr's militants were a significant source of instability and effectively operated against U.S. forces. In late 2005, al-Sadr called for a "cease-fire" wherein unrestricted, offensive operations by his militant groups were curtailed. Since that point, the frequency and intensity of sectarian violence has lessened (perhaps as a function of al-Sadr's directive). However, from 2005 intermittent sectarian and insurgent fighting has been attributable to the cleric. Yet, his religious/political influence is such that he has necessitated political engagement via the Iraqi government in the ongoing attempts to reduce violence and increase political stability.
Therefore, al-Sadr's recent proclamation for a resumed armed resistance against U.S. forces must not be ignored. Al-Sadr is still a significant religious figure, has displayed a willingness to utilize violence, and as a result is still dangerous. His political base is comprised mainly of young militant men, who have also displayed their willingness to fight at the behest of al-Sadr. Additionally, the "cease-fire" period, wherein al-Sadr has maintained a lower profile, has enabled the cleric to stockpile an unknown (yet undeniably significant) quantity of arms and materiél. Consequently, this has substantially increased his capabilities to maneuver politically, conduct operations, disrupt the tenuous progress witnessed in the country, and perhaps once again incite sectarian violence.