Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Iraq’s Sadr Clings To His Anti-American Rhetoric


One of the reasons for Moqtada al-Sadr’s rise to prominence in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein was his ardent opposition to the American presence. Now that the U.S. forces are on their way out, he is desperately trying to hold onto this rhetorical device. He has blamed the Americans for the on-going violence in Iraq, claimed that Vice President Biden is behind the recent demands for autonomous regions by some of the country’s Sunni provinces, and said that the U.S. embassy will be a continuation of the occupation. It seems that attacks upon the Americans have become such a part of his persona that he is unwilling to let them go.

Sadrists chanting anti-American slogans after Friday prayers, Baghdad, Nov. 11, 2011 (AP)
Moqtada al-Sadr has been trying to milk the impending U.S. withdrawal from Iraq for all that it is worth. At first, it seemed that Sadr wanted the Americans to go by the December 2011 deadline. In mid-September he announced that he was suspending attacks by his Promised Day Brigades upon U.S. forces to make sure that they left the country on time. He also accused the U.S. of fomenting violence against civilians to destabilize the country, and create an excuse for them to stay. When the country’s political parties were discussing keeping U.S. trainers into 2012, the Sadrists were the only ones to object. They went as far as to threaten to withdraw from the power-sharing agreement that led to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s second term if any American forces were in the country next year. Then in the middle of October, the Sadr Trend took a more positive tone when Sadr said he was coming up with a new strategy for when the U.S. left, and that there would be no need for the Mahdi Army if there was a withdrawal. Then the movement went right back to attacking the Americans, upping the ante by saying that the U.S. embassy workers were occupiers, and should be resisted. Sadr elaborated by saying that Washington should only have as many diplomats in Iraq as Iraq has in Washington. A parliamentarian from the movement threatened future attacks if thousands of diplomats and security guards stayed in the country. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world, and has a staff of around 5,500 currently, but that will eventually increase by some 10,000 next year. In November, Sadr responded to reports that the Americans were planning on increasing their military presence in the Persian Gulf after they pull out of Iraq, by saying that Washington was trying to take over the region. The movement also called for trainers for the nation’s security forces that came from countries that did not participate in the Iraq War. Finally, a member of the bloc accused provinces that wanted to become autonomous regions of being agents of Vice President Joe Biden who once proposed the division of the country into ethnosectarian regions. All of these statements show how Sadr is still strongly attached to his anti-American stance. Not satisfied with the military withdrawal, Sadr has now singled out the U.S. embassy staff and trainers, rejecting both as being a continuation of what he perceives as America’s control over Iraq. In fact, his Trend has gotten into the habit of blaming any major event in the country upon the U.S. whether it is the latest insurgent attack or the on-going dispute over federalism and the provinces.

Sadr is using a straw man argument against the Americans to keep his followers motivated. While there will always be some kind of U.S. presence in the country with its embassy, the American period in Iraq is coming to an end. The country is now facing far more pressing issues like a lack of services, unemployment, and corruption. Having become one of Maliki’s strongest supporters and holding the most positions of any single party in the ruling coalition, the Trend can’t very well criticize the government for not dealing with these problems. Given that reality, Sadr can only continue on with his diatribe against the United States, and attempt to blame them for all the ills that the nation is facing. This may play out for now, but in the long-term it can’t, because Sadr will be playing upon the past. He might therefore find himself stuck on what he knows, while events in Iraq pass him by.  

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “US trainers ok after ‘full withdrawal’: Sadr,” 10/19/11

Ahlul Bayt News Agency, “Muqtada Al Sadr calls on Maliki not to meet Obama’s call to visit Washington,” 10/30/11

Alsumaria, “Iraq Sadr orders halt of attacks against US Forces,” 9/12/11

Associated Press, “US seeking to ‘occupy’ Mideast: Iraqi cleric,” 11/4/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Ahrar Bloc support depends on stands against US forces stay,” 10/21/11
- “No need for Mehdi Army if US forces withdrawn, Sadrist,” 10/22/11
- “Sadr rejects presence of US Military trainers in Iraq,” 10/20/11

Dagher, Sam, “U.S. Withdrawal Plans Draw Suspicion, Fear in Iraq,” Wall Street Journal, 10/23/11

Ibrahim, Haider, “Sadrists charge for U.S. diplomats,” AK News, 10/23/11

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Sadr says to resist any U.S. presence in Iraq,” Reuters, 11/3/11

Al-Jaberi, Saadoun, “Senior Iraqi Shiite cleric to change tactics in aftermath of U.S. troop withdrawal,” Azzaman, 10/22/11

Jawad, Laith, “U.S. said to be working to destabilize Iraq before withdrawal,” Azzaman, 10/5/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Awadi says that Ahrar bloc will demand contracting military trainers from countries did not participate in occupying Iraq,” 11/9/11
- “MP for Sadrist accuses parties calling for forming regions, of being Biden agents seeking to divide Iraq,” 11/10/11
- “MP from Sadr Trend: Biden’s visit to Iraq today comes to pressure the government to keep part of the US forces,” 11/5/11
- “MP for Sadrist : It is not the government’s prerogative to grant immunity to American trainers,” 10/22/11
- “Muqtada Al Sadr announces quest to develop (people’s code of honor) to ward off possibilities of sectarian violence after the US withdrawal,” 10/29/11
- “Muqtada Al Sadr considers US embassy employees “occupiers: should be fought” after SOFA expires,” 10/22/11
- “Sadr: Resistance continues as long as occupation remains,” 10/25/11
- “Sadr: Workers at the American Embassy after the withdrawal are occupiers, must be resisted,” 11/11/11

Reuters, “Sadr bloc warns over keeping US military,” 10/21/11

UPI, “Iraq’s Sadr condemns U.S. ‘occupiers,’” 10/11/11

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