SADR’S POPULARITY GROWING?….I hope this isn’t true, but I have a feeling it probably is:

After months of losing hundreds, if not thousands, of men in battles with the U.S. military, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears to be more popular than ever in Iraq.

American coalition leaders were optimistic that last week’s truce calling for al-Sadr to move his men out of the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa was a sign of a weakened leader.

But many Iraqi religious and political leaders say al-Sadr’s public appeal is higher than ever and that he and his followers seem poised to gain ground in Iraq’s political arena, threatening America’s plans for the country.

The story goes on to suggest that it was a mistake to exclude him from the interim government, something that echoes Juan Cole’s comment this morning:

Bremer’s action in excluding the Sadrists from parliament is one final piece of stupidity to cap all the other moronic things he has done in Iraq. The whole beauty of parliamentary governance is that it can hope to draw off the energies of groups like the Sadrists. Look at how parliamentary bargaining moderated the Shiite AMAL party in Lebanon, which had a phase as a terrorist group in the 1980s but gradually outgrew it. AMAL is now a pillar of the Lebanese establishment and a big supporter of a separation of religion and state. The only hope for dealing with the Sadrists nonviolently was to entice them into civil politics, as well. Now that they have been excluded from the political process and made outlaws in the near to medium term, we may expect them to act like outlaws and to be spoilers in the new Iraq.

I’m not entirely sure I buy this, but it’s food for thought.

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