Saddam's old cohorts managed to convince themselves that if they spread enough money around, killed enough people and hammered the U.S. electorate with bloody headlines the United States would leave and the Iraqi government would eventually collapse -- and they would return to power. Saddam's capture, trial and execution has all but snuffed out the old-line Baathists. Recall Maliki stoutly defended his decision to carry out the court's sentence of capital punishment. He bet with Saddam dead the tyrant's cult of personality would wither. It has.
Al-Qaida pursued the same strategy of blood for headlines. Al-Qaida in Iraq tried to ignite a sectarian war -- its now-dead emir, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, made that goal explicit in February 2004. Al-Qaida massacred en masse, to the point that U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D for Defeatist) declared the war in Iraq lost. Then, the Sunni tribes in Anbar turned on al-Qaida. Sunni political integration is by no means complete, but al-Qaida has failed.
Now the Shia-led Iraqi government focuses on its chief Shia nemesis. How the Iraqi government handles Sadr matters. In August 2004, Sadr's thugs grabbed the Grand Mosque in Najaf. Sadr was counting on Americans to bomb the mosque. The United States opted to follow the political lead of Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani's aides told coalition officers: "Let us deal with Sadr. We know how to handle him and will do so. However, the coalition must not make him a martyr."
The Iraqi way often appears to be indecisive, until you learn to look at its counter-insurgency methods in the frame of achieving political success, instead of the frame of American presidential elections.
In southern Iraq and east Baghdad, Sadr once again lost street face. Despite the predictable media umbrage, this translates into political deterioration.
Think of the Iraqi anti-Sadr method as a form of suffocation, a political war waged with the blessing of Ayatollah Sistani that requires daily economic and political action, persistent police efforts and occasional military thrusts.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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