Sunday, July 27, 2008

NYT Acknowledges The Decline Of The Sadrists

On top of the AP article of the other day stating the judgement that we are winning the war in Iraq, todays NYT article must have swine across the globe filing flight plans. After over a year of spinning Sadr and his Mahdi Army as all powerful and all popular Iraqi nationalists, the NYT finally acknowledges that Sadr and his militias are anything but - though there is still the spectre of it arising from the dead.

That said, the NYT still puts its old spin on it all. They refuse to acknowledge that the Mahdi Army were Iranian proxies from inception. The Mahdi Army was a creation of Iranian sponsorship and organized by Hezbollah uber-terrorist Imad Muginayah. The NYT, like the rest of the far left, is quite willing to ignore reality in order to argue against any use of force against the Western world's most existential threat, Iran.

Further, the NYT gives no credit to U.S. forces or the surge for the decline in Sadr's fortunes. Prior to the surge, PM Maliki had been protecting Sadr. Half the reason for the surge was to target Sadr's militia and to break its hold on power. PM Maliki, faced with a rebellion that saw other Shia elements in the government talking with Sunnis and Kurds about forming a ruling coalition and ousting Maliki in Dec. 2007 finally brought Maliki around. He removed his protection from Sadr. At that point, Sadr ran for Iran and his Mahdi Army - having been decimated twice before by U.S. forces - went underground and has been methodically weeded out by U.S. forces. Add to that, beginning in March, Iraqi forces.

This article, moreso than the AP article of yesterday, could qualify as an effort to give support to the Obama narrative that the defeat of Sadr/Iran might well have occurred irrespective of the surge. But perhaps not intentionally, as it is done with more subtelty than is usually seen in the NYT's agenda journalism.

This from the NYT:

The militia that was once the biggest defender of poor Shiites in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, has been profoundly weakened in a number of neighborhoods across Baghdad, in an important, if tentative, milestone for stability in Iraq.

It is a remarkable change from years past, when the militia, led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, controlled a broad swath of Baghdad, including local governments and police forces. But its use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population to the point that many quietly supported American military sweeps against the group.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities.

The shift, if it holds, would solidify a transfer of power from Mr. Sadr, who had lorded his once broad political support over the government, to Mr. Maliki, who is increasingly seen as a true national leader.

. . . The Mahdi Army’s decline also means that the Iraqi state, all but impotent in the early years of the war, has begun to act the part, taking over delivery of some services and control of some neighborhoods.

“The Iraqi government broke their branches and took down their tree,” said Abu Amjad, a civil servant who lives in the northern Baghdad district of Sadr City, once seen as an unbreachable stronghold for the group.

The change is showing up in the lives of ordinary people. The price of cooking gas is less than a fifth of what it was when the militia controlled local gas stations, and kerosene for heating has also become much less expensive. In interviews, 17 Iraqis, including municipal officials, gas station workers and residents, described a pattern in which the militia’s control over the local economy and public services had ebbed. Merchants say they no longer have to pay protection money to militiamen. In some cases, employees with allegiances to the militia have been fired or transferred. Despite the militia’s weakened state, none of the Iraqis interviewed agreed to have their full names published for fear of retribution.

In a further sign of weakness, Shiite tribes in several neighborhoods are asking for compensation from militia members’ families for past wrongs.

The changes are not irreversible. The security gains are in the hands of unseasoned Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints spread throughout Baghdad’s neighborhoods. And local government officials have barely begun to take hold of service distribution networks, potentially leaving a window for the militia to reassert itself.

The militia’s roots are still in the ground, Abu Amjad said, and “given any chance, they will grow again.”

At the peak of the militia’s control last summer, it was involved at all levels of the local economy, taking money from gas stations, private minibus services, electric switching stations, food and clothing markets, ice factories, and even collecting rent from squatters in houses whose owners had been displaced. The four main gas stations in Sadr City were handing over a total of about $13,000 a day, according to a member of the local council.

“It’s almost like the old Mafia criminal days in the United States,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, an Army engineer rebuilding Sadr City’s main market.

. . . A spokesman for the movement in Sadr City, Sayeed Jaleel al-Sarkhy, defended the Mahdi Army, saying in an interview that it was not a formal militia and denying the charges that it had taken control of local services. He said the militia had been infiltrated by criminals who used the name of the Mahdi Army as a cover.

“The Mahdi Army is an army of believers,” he said. “It was established to serve the people.”

An employee in the Sadr City local government who oversees trash collectors — daily laborers whose salaries he said were controlled by the militia — said that had long stopped being true.

“I am sick all over,” he said. “I am blind. I’ve got a headache. I’ve got a toothache. My back hurts. All of this is from the Mahdi Army.”

. . . A month after Mr. Maliki’s military operation, strange things started to happen in Shuala, a vast expanse of concrete and sand-colored houses in northern Baghdad that was one of the Mahdi Army’s main strongholds. Militia members suddenly stopped showing up to collect money from the main gas station, a worker there said.

A member of the Shuala district council said: “They used to come and order us to give them 100 gas canisters. Now it’s, ‘Can you please give me a gas canister?’ ”

Then, several weeks later, 11 workers, guards and even a director, all state employees with ties to the militia, were transferred to other areas. Employees’ pictures were posted so American and Iraqi soldiers could identify impostors.

The Iraqi Army now occupies the militia’s old headquarters in Shuala. Soldiers set up 18 checkpoints around the neighborhood, including at the gas station. When the militia opened a new office, soldiers put a checkpoint there, too, said an Iraqi major from the unit based there. Iraqi soldiers recently distributed warning notices to families squatting in houses whose rent had been collected by the Mahdi Army until May.

In Sadr City, the authorities closed the militia’s radio station. The leader of the district council was arrested by the American military. Cooking gas delivery documents must now be approved by three officials, not just one, the council member said.

Another sign of weakness is the growing number of financial settlements between powerful Shiites and Mahdi Army members’ families over loved ones who were killed by the militia. In Topchi, a Shiite neighborhood in western Baghdad, a handwritten list of militia members’ names was taped up in the market this month, with the warning for their families to leave town. Several of their houses were attacked.

Some militia members’ families went to the local council to ask for help. They found none. Mahdi militiamen killed four local council members over several weeks last fall.

“I told them this isn’t good, they must not be blamed,” the council member said. Even so, “if your brother has been killed, this is the time for revenge.”

Now neighborhoods are breathing more freely. A hairdresser in Ameen, a militia-controlled neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, said her clients no longer had to cover their faces when they left her house wearing makeup. Minibuses ferrying commuters in Sadr City are no longer required to play religious songs, said Abu Amjad, the civil servant, and now play songs about love, some even sung by women.

“They lost everything,” said the Sadr City government employee. “The Sadr movement has no power now. There is no militia control.”

The Mahdi Army might be weak, but it is not gone.

Majid, a Sadr City resident who works in a government ministry, said several Iraqi Army officers in his area had to move their families to other neighborhoods after Mr. Maliki’s military operation because the militia threatened them. Bombs are still wounding and killing American soldiers in the district. And early this month, one Iraqi officer’s teenage son was kidnapped and killed, his body hung in a public place as a warning, said Majid, who gave only his first name because he feared reprisals.

. . . The militia is painting its response on Sadr City walls: “We will be back, after this break.”

The Iraqi Army is painting over it.

Read the entire article.

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