Al-Sadr Decides Not To Take On Petraeus
That brings the next deadline up in the heat of an Iraqi August, three months after Surge forces are to begin drawing down.
Even as al-Sadr announced the extension, mortars slammed into the Green Zone, apparently fired by Shi'a militia unhappy with the extension. Al-Sadr threatened to drop the cease-fire after U.S. and Iraqi forces began taking out rebellious Shi'a militias that were doing anything but ceasing firing. U.S. forces, while welcoming the extension, have made it clear that they have every intention of extinguishing violence from the renegades, so al-Sadr is in a position where he will be sitting back as U.S. and Iraqi forces take out terrorists once loyal to him.
It's clear he wants to appear to be a power broker and that the extension plays into that desire, but he also wants to be a strong man, and he appears to be losing that persona -- and the control it gave him over his militia -- as evidenced by this passage from WaPo's coverage:
[After al-Sadr's announcement], signs of discontent were visible. Some followers shook their heads and appeared frustrated as they left the mosque. Tears welled in the eyes of some militiamen from Diwaniyah, where Iraqi security forces have detained or displaced hundreds of Sadr followers amid allegations of abuse and torture.Even those still loyal to the John Belushi look-alike, are only loyal to a point:
"This is a huge shock," said Bassim Zain, 27, one of the militiamen from Diwaniyah. "We were expecting that Sayyid Moqtada will end the freeze in order to defend ourselves."
Another militiaman, Jassim Ali, 36, predicted that his comrades under pressure in Baghdad, Diwaniyah, Karbala and Basra "will be obliged to defend themselves. They will not be committed to this decision. This new decision will be an opportunity for the government and the occupiers who are against the Mahdi Army."
Other senior militia leaders vowed to obey. "We wanted the freeze to be lifted, but we are obedient and loyal to Moqtada Sadr," said Laith al-Sadr, a Mahdi Army commander in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad. "We will be patient. We know this path is filled with oppression, but eventually there will be an end for everything."Iraq is a land of high-stakes power plays, and the chubby cleric's toe-hold is getting more tenuous by the moment.