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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les États-Unis veulent mettre au pas Moqtada Sadr

by Hassane Zerrouky

The US Wants to Make Moqtada Al Sadr Toe the Line

Translated Sunday 4 February 2007, by John O’Neil

Iraq. In targeting the Mahdi army, Washington hopes to be able eventually to disarm the radical Shiite militia, which is demanding the departure of US forces.

A few hours before George W. Bush gave his State of the Union speech, Iraqi forces backed by US troops placed more than 600 of Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militiamen in detention. This number includes 16 senior leaders of which five are commanders of armed Shiite groups in Sadr City in Bagdad as well as Moqtada Al Sadr’s spokesman, Abdelhadi Al Derraji.

These arrests fall within the scope of the dismantling of armed militias announced in a 19 December 2006 Pentagon report. The report in question emphasizes that "The group that is currently having the greatest negative affect on the security situation in Iraq is Jaysh al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army), which has replaced al-Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence in Iraq."

Some estimate that in targeting the radical Shiite movement, Washington wanted to send a strong signal to the Sunnis, who accuse coalition forces turning a blind eye to murders of Sunnis attributed to Moqtada Al Sadr’s militias. Moreover, with Moqtada Al Sadr’s insistence to require the implementation of a calendar for the withdrawal of foreign occupying forces, his initiation of the boycott of the government and parliament, and his supposed links to Ahmadinejad’s Iran, it’s no wonder that he is in the US army’s sights.

This US turnaround under the form of a Shiite "risk" reevaluation in direct line with George W. Bush’s new strategy equally means that the communitization of Iraq (with a Kurdish president, a Shiite prime-minister and a Sunni parliamentary president), based on the Lebanese model, has not brought about the anticipated results, namely, a beginning of the country’s stabilization.

The arrests in no way mean that Moqtada Al Sadr will stay in line. The latter, which holds 32 seats in Parliament, six ministers and the secretary of state, is in fact impossible to circumvent. Without the contribution of his parliament member’s votes, Nouri Al Maliki’s government can not be maintained. This radical Shiite force can bring down the government at any time. And if it decided on 21 January to end the government and parliament boycott, it is because, according to Isa Al Agaïli, a Sadrist member of parliament, it has signed an accord with the government providing for the discussion of a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops.

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