NAJAF….Apparently we’ve decided to cut a deal with Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf. From the New York Times:
The agreement, hammered out between Mr. Sadr and Iraqi leaders and approved by the Americans, calls for the Mahdi Army, whose fighters have held the city since April 5, to put away their guns and go home, and for the American forces to pull most of their forces out of the city. Under the agreement, the Americans can maintain a handful of posts inside the city and may still run patrols through the city center.
….In a major concession to Mr. Sadr, the Americans and Iraqi officials promised to suspend the arrest warrant issued against him for his suspected involvement in the murder of a rival cleric in April 2003.
….The agreement fell into place after the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most powerful Shiite leader, delivered a stern message to the Americans urging them to get behind the deal.
According to two Iraqi Shiite leaders, American officials signed onto the agreement with Mr. Sadr only after they received a forceful note from Ayatollah Sistani and other senior clerics, passed to them by Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.
Hmmm, this sounds an awful lot like what happened in Fallujah, and apparently the Army thinks so too. From the Washington Post:
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, compared the development Thursday to the agreement earlier this month that brought relative quiet to the Sunni city of Fallujah, where U.S. Marines had engaged in ferocious combat with insurgents through March and April.
The Fallujah cease-fire “has held since May 3,” Kimmitt said. “We’re hoping to see the same thing in Najaf.”
Since the only alternative ? as at Fallujah ? was full scale assault, this is probably the right decision. However, the fact that Sistani was apparently ready to side with Sadr if we didn’t agree to his terms is not good news, nor is the fact that Sadr’s militia is effectively left in charge of the city. Plus his militia is still in charge of the Sadr City section of Baghdad, I think.
All in all, it’s pretty messy, and the best you can say for it is that the alternatives were probably all worse. Unfortunately, that seems to be about the best you can say for nearly everything in Iraq these days.