June 18, 2004 -- 'IT is time to go home." This is the message that Moqtada al-Sadr, the 30-year-old Shi'ite cleric who led a brief insurgency in Najaf and Kufa, has sent to members of his so-called Army of the Mahdi (Jaish al-Mahdi).
"The fighting is over," says Qais al-Khazaali, a spokesman for Sadr. "We want all our combatants to return to normal life and help Iraq's transition from occupation to full sovereignty."
By the time Sadr issued his instructions, however, few combatants were there to hear it. The rag-tag band recruited to "drive the Americans out of Iraq" disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Just weeks ago, Arab satellite-TV and parts of the Western media had billed Sadr as "a charismatic leader" capable of uniting Shiites and Sunnis and forcing a humiliating U.S. withdrawal. Professional anti-Americans jubilated at the prospect of another setback for George W. Bush, their all-time bete noire.
Sadr was all over the place, granting 31 TV interviews in a single week. Few wished to notice that his Army of the Mahdi consisted of at most a few hundred unemployed young men working for an average of $10 a week.
Sadr had received an estimated $70 million from Iran and so could finance some operations for a few weeks. Part of the money, however, disappeared when middlemen (including a couple of Qom mullahs) decided to extract a commission.
Lack of funds is not the only reason for Sadr's failure. He had hoped that hiding in the "holy" shrines of Najaf and Karbala would provoke their destruction by the Americans, thus triggering worldwide Shiite rage against Washington.
When the Americans refused to play that role, Sadr ordered his own men to damage part of the shrines, blamed the Americans, then brought in Arab satellite-TV cameras to record "the greatest crime of the United States."
The hoax failed: The people of Najaf and Karbala knew who had damaged the buildings, and soon organized marches calling for Sadr and his henchmen followers to leave town. (The marchers, of course, received no publicity in the Arab and Western media.) The most senior Shiite clerics in Iraq, notably Grand Ayatollah Ali Muhammad Sistani and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hakim Tabatabai, threatened to issue fatwas against Sadr. Sistani has now agreed to receive Sadr for a 20-minute "explanation" of the latter's misdeeds.
Sadr's chief demand, as always, is that an arrest warrant issued against him for involvement in the April 2003 murder of another cleric, Abdul-Majid Khoei, be canceled. According to sources, Sistani rejected that demand, insisting that Sadr submit to an interrogation by an Iraqi prosecutor in Najaf.
Sadr also demanded an amnesty for himself and his men in relations to the activities of his Army of the Mahdi. Sistani rejected that, too, arguing that such decisions would have to be taken by the elected government expected to be in place early next year
Sadr is reportedly now looking to create a political party to field candidates in next January's general election. He seems to have understood that in the new Iraq, unlike under Saddam Hussein, the only way to secure a share of power is through elections, not violence.
Sadr says he is ready to work with the government of Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi to ensure "a smooth transition." This shows that he is starting to learn Iraq's new grammar of politics; al-Allawi should not shut the door in Sadr's face. He should insist that the arrest warrant be implemented — but also let Sadr's clan organize a political party, if it so wishes.
Sadr's predictable failure has not captured the headlines in the West largely because it confounds the doomsayers who cannot stomach the fact that Iraq could be liberated and put on the path of democracy by "the arch-villain America" led by "a brainless good-for-nothing" like George W. Bush.
A majority of Iraqis, however, know they now have a unique opportunity to end decades of tyranny and terror and build a better society — and that native and foreign terrorists are determined to destroy that opportunity.
The Iraqis have learned many lessons from the insurgencies in Fallujah and Najaf. The most important is that small groups can provoke large-scale violence for a short period but (given patience and resolve on the part of the authorities) can't mobilize a popular base.
While no one was looking, something historic happened in the Middle East. The Palestinian intifada is over, and the Palestinians have lost.
For Israel, the victory is bitter. The past four years of terrorism have killed almost 1,000 Israelis and maimed thousands of others. But Israel has won strategically. The intent of the intifada was to demoralize Israel, destroy its economy, bring it to its knees, and thus force it to withdraw and surrender to Palestinian demands, just as Israel withdrew in defeat from southern Lebanon in May 2000.
That did not happen. Israel's economy was certainly wounded, but it is growing again. Tourism had dwindled to almost nothing at the height of the intifada, but tourists are returning. And the Israelis were never demoralized. They kept living their lives, the young people in particular returning to cafes and discos and buses just hours after a horrific bombing. Israelis turned out to be a lot tougher and braver than the Palestinians had imagined.
Russian intelligence services warned Washington several times that Saddam Hussein's regime planned terrorist attacks against the United States, President Vladimir Putin has said.
The warnings were provided after September 11, 2001 and before the start of the Iraqi war, Putin said Friday.
The planned attacks were targeted both inside and outside the United States, said Putin, who made the remarks during a visit to Kazakhstan.
Inflation a top threat to economy
Consumer prices have risen at a 5.5 percent annual pace for the past three months, rippling from plywood to dairy section.
The genesis of the new realism is, of course, America's problems creating democracy in Iraq. But today's problems in Iraq do not derive from failures of democracy. They derive from failures of security, which have made democracy difficult to achieve. Those failures owe to a well-chronicled fact--the United States lacks the troop levels required to provide security. It should be axiomatic that, as former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) adviser and democracy expert Larry Diamond puts it, "you can't have a democratic state unless you have a state, and the fundamental, irreducible condition of a state is that it has a monopoly on the means of violence." In Iraq today, not even the U.S. Army, much less the interim government, possesses such a monopoly.
Frum was quiet, intense, measured, sincere. All he wants all of us to do is put our shoulders to the wheelour shoulders, and those of our children, and our children's childrenand turn the world in our direction with every bit of money and blood we've got.
Bill Maher, though, was having none of it. He loudly berated Frum for a good 10 minutes, throwing arguments both good (we haven't really improved our situation or reputation with this current situation in Iraq, have we?) and sketchy (Saddam, being a secularist, would never have aided Al Qaeda style terror under any circumstances) and, when challenged with the German and Japan models of successful wars to impose democracy, responded, with the exquisite political incorrectness that he wants to be known for, that the Germans and Japanese weren't a bunch of crazy Arabs.
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