Nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bid to unite Sunnis and Shiites on the basis of a common demand for withdrawal of
An account given Pentagon officials by a military officer recently returned from
A commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Abu Aja Naemi, confirmed to Raghavan that his organization had been in discussions with Sadr’s representatives.
According to Raghavan’s report on May 20, talks between Sadr’s representatives and Sunni leaders, including leaders of Sunni armed resistance factions, first began in April.
Sadr’s aides say he was encouraged to launch the new cross-sectarian initiative by the increasingly violent opposition from nationalist Sunni insurgents to the jihadists aligned with al Qaeda. One of his top aides, Ahmed Shaibani, recalled that the George W. Bush administration was arguing that a timetable was unacceptable because of the danger of al Qaeda taking advantage of a withdrawal. Shaibani told Raghavan that sectarian peace could be advanced if both Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups could unite to weaken al Qaeda.
Raghavan reports that the cross-sectarian united front strategy was facilitated by the fact that Shaibani had befriended members of Sunni nationalist insurgent groups while he was held in
2004 through 2006. Now Shaibani, who heads a “reconciliation committee” for Sadr, is well positioned to gain the trust of those Sunni organizations.
The talks with Sunni resistance leaders have been coordinated with a series of other moves by Sadr since early February. Although many members of Sadr’s Mahdi Army have been involved in sectarian killings and intimidation of Sunnis in
The massive demonstration against the occupation mounted in Najaf by Sadr’s organization on Apr. 9, which Iraqi and foreign observers estimated at tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, was apparently timed to coincide with his initiative in opening talks with the Sunnis.
The demonstration not only showed that Sadr could mobilize crowds comparable to the largest ever seen in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, but also made clear Sadr’s commitment to transcending sectarian interests. The demonstrators carried Iraqi flags instead of pictures of Sadr or other Shiite symbols. It also included a small contingent of members of the Sunni-based Islamic Party of Iraq.
Sadr’s decision in mid-April to pull his representatives out of the al-Maliki government also appears to have been aimed in part at clearing the way for an agreement with the Sunni insurgents. Leaders of those organizations have said they would not accept the U.S.-sponsored government in any peace negotiations with the
Sadr’s aides have repeatedly denied that Sadr has left the country. The speed with which Sadr’s strategy has unfolded in recent months suggests that he has remained in close contact with his organization. Relying on electronic communication with Sadr outside
But a Navy Seal special operations officer recently returned from eight months in Anbar province, who discussed the situation there with high-ranking Pentagon officials at the end of April, suggests that that the views of Sunni leaders are quite compatible with those of Sadr. A source familiar with the officer’s account said the Sunni Sheiks in Anbar have been telling
The officer also reported that Sunni tribal sheiks have explicitly disavowed the notion that Sadr is a pawn of the Iranians, insisting instead that he doesn’t like either
The sheiks have warned their
Sadr’s project for a Sunni-Shiite united front against both al Qaeda and
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, “Perils of Dominance:
Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in