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Friday, April 30, 2004

Instant Man comments on this story:

Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia

FOR the past month they have been the rude young pretenders, a rag-tag slum army ruffling the quiet dignity of Iraq’s holiest city.

For every day that the United States army fails to act on its threat to crush them, the Shiite militiamen of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have grown in confidence in their stronghold in Najaf.

Now, however, a shadowy resistance movement within might be about to succeed where the 2,500 US marines outside the city have failed.

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days
The story goes on to reveal that the group has named itself after a two bladed sword used by a medieval imam and that practically nothing beyond its name is known about it. General Kimmit, when asked, said, "I am not aware of [the group's] existence, although we have had some reports of that nature from the city." The reporter then speculates who might be behind it.

First, since the reports are most generously described as sketchy, I'm not sure that even the basic story is true. I don't doubt that the reporter was told what he reported. I just don't know whether what he was told has any basis in fact.

That said, if the group does exist and is in fact doing what it is reported to be doing, who do you think it might be? Remember Clue? The game was (and is) an exercise in deduction. You win by eliminating all of the other possibilities. So let's play.

In the tradition of all good conspiracy theories, the first question to ask is who benefits from the existence and actions of such a group. Taking Sadr out (or even just taking him down a peg or two) clearly benefits the Coalition. It also benefits other camps in the fragmented world of Iraq's religious society (such as al Sistani and his followers, Sadr's rival for power, not to mention the now leaderless followers of Abdel-Majid Khoei, the guy Sadr is accused of having had murdered in Najaf on April 10, 2003), as well as the secular proto-government now being formed. Did I leave anyone out? Undoubtedly.

The next question to ask is who has the capacity to do it? This would seem to rule out the Iraqi governing council (at least as anything other than a surrogate for the Coalition) since they have little authority and no money except that provided by the Coalition. I don't know about the Sistani or Khoei factions, but clearly the Coalition has the ability to do what is supposedly being done.

A related question is who has the capacity to do it when and where it was being done. The shadow army made its appearance about three weeks after Sadr "occupied" Najaf. This doesn't seem to rule anyone out, but I would imagine that it would be harder for the Coalition to infitrate Najaf in order to accomplish its goals than it would be for a domestic operator. Harder, but nowhere near impossible. So the list of "possibles" remains the same, except that a little emphasis is placed on the domestic players as compared to the Coalition.

But the thing that really excites my paranoia is this: Sadr announces his armed opposition to the Coalition and the planned Iraqi government, and promptly holes up in a place where it is politically unnacceptable for us to go after him conventionally. Three weeks later, after we have announced that we will take Sadr, an unconventional force appears with the apparent goal of doing what we cannot: force Sadr out of Najaf and/or diminish or demoraize his forces. Such coincidences are, at the very least, suspicious.

And this group takes as its name a double edged sword, which could be an allusion:

A. to the fact that Sadr's military occupation of holy sites may temporarily protect him from our conventional forces but is likely to hurt him with the people who worship at those sites in the long run; or

B. to the fact that, if this really is us, this strategy could have negative long term consequences (see our support for the Taliban in its early opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan).
In other words, regardless of who is behind the strategy, it can cut both ways.

That's all I have based on the facts available.

Well, what did you expect? I was never all that good at playing Clue, either.
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