Saturday, August 14, 2004

Belmont Club Keeps an Eye on Najaf

Wretchard of Belmont Club locates another oddity in the Arab parallel universe where you can take yourself hostage and make demands!

Not only do these demands represent a categorical rejection of allegiance to the central government, it also represents a claim to Shi'ite paramountcy in Iraq. If granted, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani returns from medical treatment in London, it would only be to a city patrolled by Madhi Army thugs, with Sadr on a throne, and the whole odious arrangement not only sanctified by Baghdad but also indirectly confirmed by Washington.

And what does Sadr offer in exchange? A promise to halt his ineffectual resistance, which has thus far resulted in the annihilation of his men, the defilement of the Imam Ali shrine and injuries to himself. This is less a negotiation between two armies in the field than a conversation between a suicide and the police, with the suicide demanding a phone call to the Governor in exchange for not jumping to his death. For that reason Sadr is likely to win at least some of his demands. In the perversely distorted political world of the war on terror, hostage-taking is a trump card; and it includes holding yourself for ransom.

But unlike the classic hostage crisis scenario, where the perpetrator's power position erodes over time, Sadr's strength may actually wax unless there is a rapid resolution. Agence Presse France reports that thousands of Sadr supporters are trying to make their way to Najaf. Should that transpire, Sadr could hold out indefinitely because Allawi could never play the ace of unleashing forces on the Shrine; not with so many human shields in the way. Then Sadr would have won out; not through any skill of his own but by the self-imposed paralysis of his enemies.


UPDATE: According to the AP, the talks have ended with Muqtada Al-Sadr. No go. Let the games begin.

NAJAF, Iraq - Truce talks aimed at ending more than a week of violence between Shiite militants and U.S. and Iraqi forces in the holy city of Najaf broke down Saturday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie said.

"I feel deep sorrow and regret to announce the failure of the efforts we have exerted to end the crisis in Iraq peacefully," he said. "Our goal was to spare blood, preserve security and for the militias to put down their weapons."

Al-Rubaie, who had headed the negotiations on behalf of the government, did not say what led to the breakdown in talks, but added that he was going to leave the city.

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