Shiites Unite! There Is a Common Enemy

An entry in this space on April 18 suggested that Shiites in Iraq are divided politically and militarily and that one of the major pospects of the post-occupation situation there may be Shiite-on-Shiite violence. In a statement covered in the U.S. press on April 26, however, Maqtada al-Sadr has straightened out any misunderstanding about the nature of relations between his movement’s Mahdi Army and the Iraqi Army under the titular command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

Al-Sadr’s basic message is that Shiites have nothing to fight about. What they have, instead, is a common enemy at which both (or all) groups should be concentrating their attention. And guess who that is? The United States, of course. In al-Sadr’s own words, “If we have threatened an open war until liberation, we meant a war against the ocupier,” he says (emphasis added). To the government, he exhorts, “I call upon my brothers in the police, army and Mahdi Army to stop the bloodshed” among them. “We should be one hand in achieving justice, security and in supporting the resistance in all of its forms. This is a war between us and the occupier, so do not interfere in favor of the occupier.”

That sounds petty clear, and the message has been received by the troops. As one of his militia commanders is quoted by the Associated ress as saying, “Al-Sadr has made it clear that the open war is directed against the Americans. We will continue to fight the Americans and if the Iraqi soldiers attack us, we will fight back.”

This is not exactly the way proponents of “staying the course” in Iraq are portraying the ongoing American role. If al-Sadr is to be believed (admittedly a big “if”), withdrawing the Americans would seem to remove the major impediment to inter-Shiite relations. Of course, Sunnis and Kurds probably prefer a splintered rather than united Shiite front, but can one have it all ways?

“Should I stay or should I go?” a popular song entreats in an entirely different context. Muqtada al-Sadr and David Petraeus seem to have two different ideas. Who’s right? 

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