Has Moktada Al-Sadr, the Shi'ite strong man, been bought off, somehow? This is just a theory, an intellectual exercise -- not even a guess -- based on the President's speech.Hear me out: A big part of Bush's plan relies on Iraq's cops. "18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades [will be] committed to" securing Baghdad. And "these Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations" there. But last time I checked, these police units were largely fronts for thuggish militias like Sadr's Mahdi Army. Also, the President talked about avoiding the "sectarian interference [that] prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods in Baghdad." How is that interference being avoided, or run over? By buying off its leadership, maybe?UPDATE 01/11/06 10:50 AM: Or maybe not. "Iraq's prime minister has told Shi'ite militiamen to surrender their arms or face an all-out assault by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, senior Iraqi officials" tell the AP.On the other hand, "An Army officer who recently commanded a battalion in Baghdad predicted [to the Washington Post] last night that the plan would fail because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government 'will do things to maintain protection' of Sadr's forces."UPDATE 11:24 AM: "I would suggest that PM Nuri al-Maliki's warning to the Mahdi Militia to disarm or face the US military is in fact code," Juan Cole says. "He is telling the Sadrists to lie low while the US mops up the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sadr's militia became relatively quiescent for a whole year after the Marines defeated it at Najaf in August, 2004. But since it is rooted in an enormous social movement, the militia is fairly easy to reconstitute after it goes into hiding."(Big ups: Nicholas Weaver, in the comments)UPDATE 12:47 PM: Check out the weirdly ambiguous interchange between a reporter and SecDef Gates today, courtesy of Inside Defense.
Q: Is the United States military and/or the Iraqi government prepared now to arrest or kill Muqtada al-Sadr as part of this new increase?...SEC. GATES: I think a source of frustration for both Iraqi and American forces in the past has been political interference during clearing operations... I think one of the most important commitments that the prime minister has made is that in this offensive, the military will have the authority to go after all law breakers. There are no exceptions. I'm not going to hang specific targets on specific people, but all law breakers are susceptible to being detained in this -- or taken care of in this campaign.Q: Sir, why are you vague on the treatment of al-Sadr? Because he has a long history here in this conflict as being on the most-wanted list of the United States; then the Iraqis persuaded the U.S. not to arrest him; he leads the Mahdi Army. I mean, this is the bad guy that the United States makes clear is helping to bring down this government, so why not commit to what our posture is with regard to him now?SEC. GATES: What I will say is that all parts of Baghdad are going to be involved in this campaign, including Sadr City. (Cross talk.) (Laughter.)