Friday, August 27, 2004

So Who Is The Winner?

Juan Cole gives this assessment:

I think the big losers from the Najaf episode (part deux) are the Americans. They have become, if it is possible, even more unpopular in Iraq than they were last spring after Abu Ghuraib, Fallujah and Najaf Part 1. The US is perceived as culturally insensitive for its actions in the holy city of Najaf.

The Allawi government is also a big loser. Instead of looking decisive, as they had hoped, they ended up looking like the lackeys of neo-imperialists.

The big winner is Sistani, whose religious charisma has now been enhanced by solid nationalist credentials. He is a national hero for saving Najaf.

For Muqtada, it is a wash. He did not have Najaf until April, anyway, and cn easily survive not having it. His movement in the slums of the southern cities is intact, even if its paramilitary has been weakened.

I'm not sure his paramilitary has weakened, given that while the US and international press focused on Najaf, the Mahdi Army gained practical control of the South and Sadr City. It may grow even stronger if the survivors in Najaf learnt tactical lessons from the fighting. On the other hand, unless Sami Ramadani's optimism (which I don't share; see Sadr Is Winning series below) is justified and Sadrists can learn and improve on the political-social front too (i.e. be more inclusive and circumspect and control less by fear), the way the Mahdi controls these large areas could lead to enough disillusionment on the part of the population to seriously weaken Sadr again.

UPDATE 29/08: The Christian Science Monitor's journalist in Baghdad concluded Sadr was strenghtened. Also as an effect of the shootings of pro-Sistani protesters in Najaf.

BAGHDAD – Six months ago, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalasi was what most would consider an Iraqi Shiite moderate. Critical of the militant ideas of fellow Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalasi preached a more cooperative approach toward the Americans and the interim Iraqi government.

Then, last Thursday, when Iraqi snipers opened fire on him and thousands of demonstrators converging on Najaf, hoping to end the siege there and protect the shrine, Khalasi changed his mind. Now he's a radical, a troubling sign that Mr. Sadr has grown stronger from a three-week-long standoff that the Iraqi government once hoped might reduce Sadr to irrelevance.

..."This is the beginning of the end for the Americans," says Khalasi, speaking from his home in Baghdad's upper-class Shiite district of Kadhimiya. "What will happen now is that all the political parties will unite to kick the Americans out of Iraq. You have seen even the Sunni people starting to support Moqtada. All this will encourage people to be united."


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