From the field: Major development: Campaign to disable the Jaish al-Mahdi in Iraq#links
Yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki indicated that militias had to disarm. His focus is, of course, the militia that is part of the al-Sadr movement or current, the jaish al-mahdi. He seems somehow less preoccupied with the al-Badr brigade militia which is part of SIIC. No doubt, getting rid of all militias is a wonderful idea, but starting with the Sadrists may not be wise.
I remember sitting in Beirut with an old friend about the time of the invasion. He was a shrewd observer (and a Shi'i Muslim), who I had known for decades. He was happy to see Saddam toppled, but he was distressed by how poorly prepared the US was to deal with Iraq. He said, despite the mistakes, this will be ok provided the US does not alienate the Shi'a in Iraq. "If you do that, then it is all over."
Muqtada al-Sadr sits atop a mobilized underclass community that is too unwieldy to encompass in a well-integrated party, and he is not the greatest leader, but he does have unique authority as a sayyid (or descendant of the Prophet), as the son and former aide of Ayatollah M. Sadiq al-Sadr and as part of a distinguished clerical family with branches in Lebanon and Iran, as well as Iraq. He alone can sit atop the volcano. If he loses control, then Katie bar the door.
When my Iraq Study Group colleagues fantasized about how things might be if Muqtada would disappear, I warned them to watch what they wish for.
For the moment, the ceasefire or freeze that has been in place since August seems to be out the door. Violence will likely increase, as illustrated by the rocketing of the Green Zone (three Americans killed) today, following a U.S. raid in Sadr City.
There is a good chance that the US will end up seeking Iranian help to end it the fighting with the Sadrists (as al-Maliki had to do in al-Basrah, although he now denies it). Or, maybe will decide to strike Iran too! Yeah, that would help.
Our political dilemma is that our Iraqi Shi'i "friends" don't have the popular base that Muqtada does, not are likely to any time soon.