Sadr City: A Parable?

The cessation of organized fighting between Muktada al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi army and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army over the largely Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City that began over the weekend seems to be holding, with one exception, according to press reports. Given the ravages that have befallen that area of Iraq shown in recent televised media reports, the absence of major violent news from Sadr City is news in itself.

But there may be more to it than that. The conditions that have allowed the suspension of inter-Shiite fighting in Sadr City may have deeper signiicance for the future of Iraq and may even offer a parable of sorts for the question of American withdrawal from Iraq.

Spokesmaen for al-Sadr have stated their condition for ceasing their campaign to control Sadr City (which, not coincidentally, has been the launching point for artillery–mortar and rocket–attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad, headquarters for the American presence). Their condition, very simply, is that the Mahdi army will restrain its forces in Sadr City if order there is enforced by Iraqi government forces, but not if the Americans do the patrolling, since the American presence is a symbol of the occupation they oppose.

Despite this pronouncement, there is still some residual fighting in Sadr City, but it centers around the wall being built by the American to partition the suburb into two parts, including a free and secure zone in the part of the city from which the attacks on the Green Zone are launched. Since the wall is another reminder of the occupation, opposing that is consistent with al-Sadr’s position on Sadr City per se.

Does this mean that the American military is the source of, rather than the solution to, Shiite-on-Shiite violence? Is it possible to extrapolate this example to what will transpire, at least within the Shiite community, when the United States packs its bags and leaves altogether? And would an American withdrawal have the same effect elsewhere? In Sunni areas, after all, support for Al Qaeda in Iraq seems to linked to anti-Americanism; remove the irritant, and the sore may heal.

The real question, of course, is whether the limited Sadr City example is a true parable for the broader future or a false analogy. Literally, of course, it is limite to the relations within one of the contending groups in the country and may have no predictive value for the deeper divisions between Shiites,Sunnis, and Kurds. Still, it is a refreshing alternative to dire predictions that the removal of American forces from Iraq will inexorably trigger a descent into uncontrollable chaos. 


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