Wednesday, April 6, 2011

America Winds Down In Iraq - The Mahdi Army Waits In The Shadows

Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army
When I was in Iraq in 2004, there were two major uprisings by the Mahdi Army, a violent Shiite militia led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Many Americans and Iraqis were killed by his black-uniformed militia members. Eventually, Al Sadr moved his militia back into the shadows. He participated in the new Iraqi government, and his Shiite wing was instrumental in selecting many of the leaders of that government.

Then good old Muqtada went to Iran where he has continued his religious education. His ultimate goal is to become an ayatollah like his late father. In his quest to increase his status in Iraq, his mentors are the Iranians, and their influence has been substantial from the beginning of the war. Many of the rockets and mortars my fellow soldiers and I dodged during our tour were supplied by the Iranians.

Only about 47,000 American troops remain in Iraq, and those will be gone by the end of this year. When two U.S. soldiers were killed in southern Iraq in early April, it was likely the Mahdi Army was behind the attack. Militia members - with Al Sadr's blessing - say they will continue to target Americans until all have left Iraq.

Once all Americans have pulled out, watch for Muqtada al Sadr to make his move. A democracy will not work for a terrorist like Al Sadr. He and his fellow hardliners will endeavor to turn Iraq into the Arab equivalent of the Persian religious dictatorship in Iran.

It was a foregone conclusion that America would never have a long-term presence in Iraq - any more than we will have post World War II-styled military bases for decades in Afghanistan. We are the "infidels" to the leaders of both the Sunni and the Shiite factions. Yes, we removed the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the mortal enemy of Iran. In many ways, I guess we did Iran a favor. Now they can deal with Muqtada and the sixty percent of Iraqis who are Shiites. Once again, time is on the side of the Muslims. It is their part of the world, and we are only temporary interlopers.

As the Middle East continues to erupt, Islamic fundamentalists will take advantage of turmoil in each country in turn. It is already happening in the post "democratic" revolution in Egypt that Barack Obama encouraged. Fundamentalists are encouraging rioters in Bahrain to keep up the struggle against that government as well as the Saudi Arabian troops who have entered the fray. When they think the time is right, the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al Sadr will make their move in Iraq.

Then we will see if the democracy we fought to establish there is strong enough to survive.

Charles M. Grist

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