Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Choice

The US and Iraqi Government have given a pretty big warning to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who leads a large militia blamed for much of the sectarian violence that's been tearing Iraq apart. The strength of his private army and his popularity among many Shias has been enough to get him a say in government. But it's clear even those who sit at the table for him have been carrying out his military bidding. The arrest of the deputy health minister is the latest in a series of operations carried out by the US against al-Sadr, and it presents him with a choice.

He could completely cut off the more extreme elements of his movement, and urge his followers to ease back on the attacks against the Sunnis. That might seem like the best way forward, but it's difficult to see how he could sell that to his people, many of whom see him as their best chance of protection. I think it would be better for Iraq in the long term if al-Sadr does what he has to do to remain the most popular Shia paramilitary leader. That'll involve more violence against the Sunnis - but the cleric's credibility among Shias offers the best hope of his leading his people into a peaceful solution further down the road. It's an extremely crude comparison, but the clearest route to peace has al-Sadr turning out as Iraq's Gerry Adams.

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