April 5, 2004

ZEYAD APPEARS TO HAVE ANOTHER SCOOP:

A coup d’etat is taking place in Iraq a the moment. Al-Shu’la, Al-Hurria, Thawra (Sadr city), and Kadhimiya (all Shi’ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad) have been declared liberated from occupation. Looting has already started at some places downtown, a friend of mine just returned from Sadun street and he says Al-Mahdi militiamen are breaking stores and clinics open and also at Tahrir square just across the river from the Green Zone. News from other cities in the south indicate that Sadr followers (tens of thousands of them) have taken over IP stations and governorate buildings in Kufa, Nassiriya, Ammara, Kut, and Basrah. Al-Jazeera says that policemen in these cities have sided with the Shia insurgents, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me since a large portion of the police forces in these areas were recruited from Shi’ite militias and we have talked about that ages ago. And it looks like this move has been planned a long time ago.

No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Al-Mahdi are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47’s are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically. Baghdadis are horrified and everyone seems to have made up their mind to stay home tomorrow until the situation is clear.

I’m not seeing anything about this elsewhere yet. It’s bad news if things are as bad as this sounds. This report from Dow Jones says that Bush is predicting more violence in Iraq.

UPDATE: D’oh. This seems to regard last night’s events, not something new. I was thrown by the time difference, I guess. Still news, but not new news. On the other hand, it’s still going on. And reader Robert Penfield is worried about people worrying:

Will this be W’s Tet Offensive? In other words, a scary uprising that ends in total defeat for the US’s enemies and drastically advances US interests at minimal cost to us and great cost to our enemies, but which is spun so negatively by the domestic press that American voters perceive it as a crushing defeat . . .

The combination of us “reducing” Fallujah and having the opportunity to crush the Shiite militia menace while we have our best troops positioned to do so is a good one for the US and Coalition, but I fear no matter how it turns out, it will be perceived as a defeat.

Reader Eric Hall agrees, and sees this as an opportunity:

Look, this latest series of events in Iraq are a good thing. If that statement surprises you (which I suspect it does), then you really need to get in front of this subject.

Let me back into this for you: We invaded and occupied Iraq with a loss of American life roughly equivalent to the city of Chicago’s annual murder count. That is far too low considering the accomplishment. It has been so low precisely because we deferred some of the major combat. We are now having to engage in that combat, and that is unfortunate, but it is far better that we do so now than allow it to happen later.

The sunni baathists are a special-interest minority group with a history of political terrorism — these are the same knobs that were feeding their brothers into the industrial plastic shredders. Instead of killing them as we were expecting (and as we probably should have), we allowed them to go home to see if they would adapt to the new reality. They have since expressed that they have chosen not to adapt, so now they will be made to adapt, and it is far better that we do so while we have well-armed and well-armored marines on the ground.

Meanwhile, Sadr is equally intent on denying elections, since it has become apparent that he will lose. His only chance at establishing his theocratic powerbase is to drive the wedge, and to do so before the handover. We knew that there would be islamicist tyrants and that we’d have to fight them, and so now we are where we expected to be, just late.

Sadr has volunteered his militia to Hezbollah and Hamas, has praised the 9/11 attacks as a “gift from God”, and is defying the moderate clerics. He’s the freaking posterboy for the conflict we expected. Again, much better to fight him now than later.

The upsurge in conflict is only “bad” in comparison to the relative ease and simplicity of the military operation, but it is not bad in comparison to the war effort we had expected, and indeed, being able to thin the Iraqi gene pool of these knobs before the handover is a good thing.

Nobody wants to come back later and “finish the job” yet again, right?

Well, they’ve certainly come out into the open. If I were them, I would have waited. Reader Jonathan Isernhagen has a similar take:

I’m not at all sure this is a bad thing. If we take if for granted that there’s a heavily-militarized faction of Iraq that refuses to accept democracy, would we rather that they continue to attack us from shadows or face us down in the street? To the extent we can bring sufficient force to bear, this may be just the thing needed to cement the authority of the Council and the elected democracy that follows it.

If it happens, it will have been necessary.

Stay tuned.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg responds to the original post:

This makes for riveting reading and Glenn and Andrew are both right for posting it. But just to be clear this is not a coup d’etat and it is not, as Andrew suggests, a civil war. It is an attempt at a coup d’etat. A coup d’etat by definition is the successful sudden overthrow of a government. A civil war is something more than an uprising. It seems to me it is simply way too soon to say it’s either. The government in Iraq is still the Coalitional Authority under Paul Bremer. I don’t think anyone thinks he’s been overthrown or is about to be. I don’t know that much about all of this but I bet you I’m right when I say this is all a big deal, but not that big. And, it may prove to be good news or bad. If Sadr’s forces are smashed and arrested, that could result in a worse climate or a better one. It’s just too soon to tell.

And will be, for quite a while. But Sadr seems to have overplayed his hand and isolated himself:

An aide to Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, a member of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, said Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, regarded as Iraq’s most powerful cleric and a rival of Sadr’s, supported the Iraqi seminary’s appeal.

“The Hawza (seminary) is unanimous on this,” the aide said.

“We asked Moqtada (al-Sadr) to stop resorting to violence, occupying public buildings and other actions that make him an outlaw. He insists on staying on the same course that could destroy the nation.”

It’s worth emphasizing that this is factional fighting, not popular uprising, and that Sadr is not particularly popular outside his own faction.

MORE: Michael Ubaldi emails:

I don’t know if the Bush administration is as strategically inclined as Eric Hall suggests, but to have deliberately brought on last-ditch mayhem from extremists while full troop strength would be present – rather than a year from now – is a brilliantly calculated risk. Al-Sadr, particularly, was basically handed the brush to paint himself with crosshairs.

But I can see the elite headline: “BUSH MISLEADS SUNNI AND SHIITE EXTREMISTS.”

“Bush lied — terrorists died!” That works for me.

Meanwhile, here’s more on how outside-the-mainstream Sadr is, from ABC News:

April 5— Shiite Arabs in Iraq express relatively little support for attacks against coalition forces such as those that occurred Sunday. And while most do express confidence in religious leaders and call for them to play a role in Iraq today, most do not seek a theocracy, and very few see Iran as a model for Iraq.

A nationwide poll of Iraqis conducted in February for ABCNEWS also found that very few Shiites express support for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia mounted the deadly attacks against the U.S.-led occupation. . . .

In terms of al-Sadr, a bare 1 percent of Iraqis name him as the national leader they trust most. On Iran, just 3 percent name it as a model for Iraq in the coming years, and just 4 percent say it should play a role in rebuilding Iraq.

This guy — an unpopular tool of the Iranian mullarchy — and some Saddam leftovers. As I said, not a popular uprising.

STILL MORE: The Belmont Club offers a lengthy military/political analysis. Excerpt:

I mentioned the Jihadi penchant for using counterseige tactics. Whenever they are surrounded or under attack, they go off and burn down some town or perpetrate some spectacular slaughter. And here they go again. Same old, same old. These are calculated for media effect.

Read the whole thing. He wonders how deeply Iran is willing to invest itself in Sadr. A deep investment would be dumb, but the mullahs often are.

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