Election Update (In Iraq)

ELECTION UPDATE (IN IRAQ)….Here’s the good news in Iraq: provincial elections have been scheduled for October. And here’s the bad news in Iraq: provincial elections have been scheduled for October.

In a nutshell, the problem is this: for the past few years, the south of Iraq has been the scene of a battle for control between the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organization of ISCI’s Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. But while the surge and the various Sunni Awakenings have gotten most of the credit for the recent drop in violence in Iraq, another key ingredient has been a cease-fire announced by Sadr six months ago — a cease-fire that’s looking less and less tenable with elections coming up. Sadr didn’t contest the last round of elections, which left ISCI in political control of the region, and Sadr now feels that the U.S. is taking advantage of the cease-fire to team up with ISCI to make sure things stay that way. Tina Susman and Raheem Salman of the Los Angeles Times report:

Sadr loyalists have said their foes are taking advantage of the cease-fire to try to crush the movement politically and militarily.

….Sadr aides cited military raids on the group’s strongholds, such as Baghdad’s Sadr City district, and they accused U.S. and Iraqi security forces of targeting loyalists in southern provinces where the movement is vying for power with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The council’s leader, Abdelaziz Hakim, is a U.S. ally. Scores of Iraqis have died in clashes involving Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Council’s Badr Organization.

….Salah Ubaidi, Sadr’s spokesman, said the cleric, who rarely has appeared in public in the last year, would make a statement Saturday if he decided to extend the truce. That would mark the end of the six-month deadline according to the Islamic calendar.

If Sadr remains silent, Ubaidi said, it will mean the Mahdi Army is back in action.

Eric Martin suggests that although Sadr might have actually welcomed some of the early U.S.-ISCI raids as part of his “attempt to purge unruly, disloyal and radical elements from his ranks,” things have since gotten out of hand:

But the US forces and ISCI went too far — creating a nearly untenable position for Sadr, who has been facing extreme pressure from within his movement’s ranks to release his hold on the militia and respond to this aggression. Sadr is letting ISCI know that, going forward, full retaliation will result from any future assaults (with perhaps a bit of payback mixed in for good measure).

Like it or not, it’s long been obvious that Sadr isn’t going away. Eric notes that outwardly the U.S. is doing its best to treat Sadr respectfully, but that the raids on Sadr’s forces have continued unabated. If Sadr decides that, deferential words to the contrary, this is our way of making sure that Hakim wins this year’s elections — elections that Sadr plans to contest — he may decide that restarting the war is his only option. And that means restarting it against us, not just the Badr Organization.

There’s no telling how this is going to play out, but it’s definitely something to watch.