By Spencer Ackerman 03/26/2008 10:46AM
Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki is giving powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's forces three days to surrender in Basra, as clashes between Maliki's security forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army -- in which the U.S. intervenes on Maliki's side -- escalate. But with the U.S. happy about the now-abrogated Sadrist ceasefire, why is the U.S. military getting involved? The Washington Post isn't sure:
It was unclear why U.S. forces would take part in a broad armed challenge to Sadr and his thousands-strong militia on the eve of Petraeus's assessment, which the Bush administration has said would greatly influence its decision on whether to draw down troop levels.
Here's an answer. As long as Maliki is in the prime minister's chair, and as long as we proclaim the Iraqi government he leads to be legitimate, Maliki effectively holds us hostage. "I need to go after Sadr," Maliki says. "The situation is unacceptable! In Basra, he threatens to take control of the ports, and in Baghdad, he's throwing my men out of their checkpoints. Would you allow the Bloods or the Crips to take over half of Los Angeles?" And as soon as he says that, we're trapped. It simply is not tenable for Petraeus to refuse a request for security assistance from the Prime Minister to deal with a radical militia.
Now, some Iraq-watcher friends of mine point out that this is absurd. "Sadr is, of course, a thug," they say, "but he's a nationalist. And he's far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki's Da'wa Party -- both of whom we're supporting! And most importantly, Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq. Petraeus can do business with him. This doesn't make any sense!" And they're right. It doesn't. But as long as we sponsor the Iraqi political process -- and a Sadrist doesn't actually become premier himself -- this will keep happening...