Monday, February 25, 2008

What About This?

First, Al-Sadr has extended JAM's cease-fire for another 6 months, approximately. The commanders were right, and these guys were wrong.

The Turks, for their part, have begun a very tightly controlled ground offensive in Iraqi Kurdistan against PKK insurgents, although it's actual duration is still somewhat in question. It doesn't appear that this offensive will threaten Iraq's overall stability at the moment, as it was not directly opposed by the US - the people who are liable if Iraq actually does lose stability.

"Turkey gave the United States and Iraqi authorities advance notice of its incursion, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said."

While the Iraqis are predictably unhappy about it, it's worth the cost of a carefully controlled, limited operation on Turkey's part in order to keep them on our side in this. We've been cooperating with them by sharing intelligence and through diplomacy channels for the same reason; the alternative is crippled US logistics and possible non-cooperation with us on Iran and Syria. So, not really an alternative at all.

The Sadrist reaction to this is interesting, however:

"We demand that the Turkish government withdraw its forces immediately from the Iraqi territory and rely on negotiations to solve this conflict," al-Sadr's influential political committee said in a statement. "We call upon the Muslim neighbor Turkey through its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its Muslim people to be an element of peace and security in the region."

They don't actually expect that Turkey will listen to them, but the statement does indicate how Al-Sadr's committee is trying to bill themselves as a nationalist party: obviously any foreign interference has to be opposed, Turkey and the US included. We don't often get the opportunity to hear Sadrist political rhetoric, and this indicates as well that they are earnestly trying to place themselves more and more solidly in the political realm, as opposed to the military one. And the US Military is responding politically as well, in keeping the dialog with the Sadrists open and diplomatic (ABC Article):

"This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honor to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens," the military said in a statement. "It will also foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation."

Something that seems to be forgotten in all of this is that Al-Sadr's shifting into the political realm - whatever his intentions - does constitute political progress. The figurehead of a previously very violent sectarian faction is moderating himself and his followers to become a political player. He called a cease-fire, then extended it, despite the fact that the US was consistently targeting fringe elements of his militia - because he really has been trying to reign them in. Fanatical followers can ruin a bid for political power just as easily as bad rhetoric can, which is why we've seen changes in both.

Now certainly, Al-Sadr may still be an islamist, and one with a violent history. But frankly the part where that violence is currently history is pivotal in considerations involving JAM and himself. He may be an opportunist, but one can tell an awful lot about what opportunities exist and where they exist by watching him. We've already seen violence become a non-starter for any serious political player in Iraq, and Al-Sadr is maintaining his base through social and political works now instead.

Why this continued movement in both rhetoric and action is not considered political progress is somewhat beyond my understanding.

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