Smokescreen? Provocation? Or Both?
So why DID the US decide to take on al-Sadr right now? They started by leaving him out of discussions on the handover of power, then they closed down his newspaper and even arrested one of his top men. Until then, al-Sadr's supporters had been "militant" but not violent. Most Shi'ites looked down their noses at his aggressive ways. Suddenly he is becoming a hero and a lightning-rod for the anti-US resistance, including both Shi'ites and Sunnis.
So why did the US choose to provoke him right now?
When your team is getting badly hammered in all parts of the field and you're coming into the final quarter of the game, it's time to throw out the plan book and try something new.
Until two days ago, US media was awash with talk of Richard Clarke and 9/11. In two more days, Condi Rice will be testifying before the 9/11 commision. A day later, Bush and Cheney will be answering questions. Perhaps it was time to turn off the spotlight.
What else is in the news that's worth ignoring? How about Haiti's ousted President Aristide, who is suing the USA and France for removing him from power? Or David Kay's claims that he knew within days that there were no WMDs in Iraq? Or the US Army's moves to again delay troop returns and organise the first draft since Vietnam? The continuing pull-out of foreign forces from Iraq? John F. Kerry pulling ahead in the polls? Republicans slamming their own party's Patriot Act? Ralph Nader's surprisingly solid independent candidacy? Sharon's plans to assasinate Arafat? The quiet trickle of prisoners being released from Guantanamo without charge and without apologies?
Or perhaps this was Bremer's call. Perhaps he knows it will now be impossible to arrange a peaceful handover to hand-picked US puppets in June, so he's looking for a good excuse to delay things, or at least make it look like the US have become the innocent victims of aggression from these "terrorists." Al-Sadr recently aligned himself with Hamas, so he can now be called a "terrorist", which means anything goes for the Bush Boyz.
In any event, things in Iraq are about to get explosive. As a special forces officer at Baghdad airport told Robert Firsk yesterday: "Things are getting very bad and they're going to get worse. But no one is saying that - either because they don't know or because they don't want you to know."
Firsk points out that it took the British three years to alienate both the Sunnis and the Shi'ites in 1920, while the US has achieved it in a single year.
War supporters say we can't leave now because that would plunge Iraq into crisis, civil war and anarchy? So what is THIS?