The fall and fall of the House of Sadr

by John Quiggin on February 27, 2007

One of the many useful services performed by Glenn Reynolds is his chronicling of the relentless decline of Moqtada al-Sadr. Some past instalments

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr’s presence a apr 29, 04

those who thought Sadr represented a mass movement among Iraqis were seriously mistaken. [May 5, 04]

ANOTHER BAD DAY for the increasingly irrelevant Sadr. [May 26, 04]

SADR’S DECLINE CONTINUES [Jun 17, 04]

Demonstrators shouted chants denouncing al-Sadr, including one that equated him with deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. [Sep 3, 04]

Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously—through a nuanced combination of sophisticated counter-insurgency efforts and attendant political machinations contra Moktada al-Sadr. [Nov 1, 04]

And now:

Moqtada al-Sadr doesn’t like the surge. That he’s saying so from a secret location may explain why. . . .

I think it’s time for Glenn to let up on the guy. Hated, with no public support, isolated, irrelevant, outfoxed by the sophisticated Bush and now a lonely fugitive, surely by this time he’s too unimportant for a post.

{ 35 comments }

1

John Emerson 02.28.07 at 12:17 am

There should be a name for trends that become planted in the public mind and stay there forever. For example, since 1968 “rising crime rates”, under that name, have continuously been one of the 2 or 3 most important US political issues. If they’d actually been rising that whole time, 100% of us would be murder victims by now, and 100% of all property would have been stolen.

As I remember, crime rates actually did rise pretty steadily for about ten years after 1968, but have been flat, fluctuating, or declining ever since. But you still often hear people speak as though there’s been a steady rise which is still continuing.

2

Andrew R. 02.28.07 at 12:34 am

The Mahdi Army has been quietly killing enemies of the U.S. for well over a year now, and he’s the most nationalist and least Iran friendly of the Iraqi Shi’ites. Why on earth are folks like Reynolds acting like it’s still Spring of 2004?

3

stuart 02.28.07 at 1:15 am

John, the UK media tend to do the same in the UK I noticed – every year when each annual crime statistics report is printed (like the BCS and the Home Office/Police summary) they pick out the approx 50% of crime categories that have increased that year and report how all of them have risen. Next year it will be mostly a different 50% of categories. At most any comments about all the other categories that have dropped over the year will be skimmed over in one of the final paragraphs, assuming that most people wont read it that far anyway, or think that the drops in crime in those categories can’t be very noticeable if the reporter said nothing much about them.

4

ken melvin 02.28.07 at 2:39 am

Such works well here in the US; wonder why it doesn’t work with al-sadr? Maybe he should try something like ‘out damn spot’.

5

Barry Freed 02.28.07 at 4:09 am

He’s been down so long it looks like up to US.

6

P O'Neill 02.28.07 at 4:10 am

From the start, Moqtada al-Sadr was the designated “punk” of the multifacted insurgency, whom the pundits could safely fulminate about while the actual Iranian-backed militias (Sciri) got a free pass in that weird way that hardline Iran benefits from a huge blind spot on the neocon right. Meanwhile al-Sadr just bides his time and waits for first distraction to the surge to come along. Glenn will have plenty of opportunties to denounce him again.

7

abb1 02.28.07 at 8:38 am

There should be a name for trends that become planted in the public mind and stay there forever. For example, since 1968 “rising crime rates”…

It’s called ‘demonizing’. Applied to racial, ethnic and political groups, labor organizations, and individuals. Works every time.

8

stostosto 02.28.07 at 8:40 am

I don’t understand what is remotely interesting about this Glenn Reynolds type. He is merely a hack who makes up his own reality to fit his inclinations. And not even in a particularly imaginative or articulate way. At the most he is gratingly sophomoric.

9

Steve LaBonne 02.28.07 at 12:25 pm

Hated, with no public support, isolated, irrelevant, outfoxed by the sophisticated Bush and now a lonely fugitive

Yeah, we know all about Reynolds. So what about Sadr? ;)

10

jon 02.28.07 at 12:32 pm

al-Sadr’s hiding is clearly a sign that we’re winning. Just as the non-appearance of WMDs is a sure indication just how scared the Iraqis are of us. And my lucky 1943 steel penny hasn’t allowed me to be bit by a single rattlesnake in the three weeks I’ve had it on my bookshelf.

As for crime rates: Gosh folks, do you think with the population doubling there might be more crimes? Our inmate population also increases, fancy that! There’s also been an increase in sodomy, alcohol abuse, church-going, miles driven, energy consumed, and tofu imports. It’s all going to hell in a handbasket and all the other people are to blame!

11

John Emerson 02.28.07 at 1:32 pm

7: Yeah, but I’m thinking specifically of the atemporality of a trend that moves in a given direction forever but ends up about where it started.

I did read something by Hexter once called something like “The Gradual Rise of the Middle Class, 1200-1700″ which pointed out that at the end of five centuries of rise the middle class still remained about where it had started, wealthy bu lacking political power, which it could only gain by marrying or buying into the aristocracy.

12

John Emerson 02.28.07 at 2:12 pm

So maybe we could call these things “Hexter trends”.

13

Alex 02.28.07 at 2:35 pm

A Glenn Reynolds learning process?

14

abb1 02.28.07 at 3:01 pm

The “gradual rise of the middle class” thing is probably just an incorrect interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics.

15

stuart 02.28.07 at 3:58 pm

As for crime rates: Gosh folks, do you think with the population doubling there might be more crimes?

More crimes in absolute terms, but not crime rates – although increased urbanisation (as a fraction of the total population) and such may well cause some increase in expected crime rates, which often accompanies growing population.

16

lemuel pitkin 02.28.07 at 4:14 pm

I don’t think the crime thing really works, at least not for the US. There really was a big increase in crime — and a much bigger increase in incarceration — in the decade or so after 1968. Public perceptions followed, naturally with a lag. But if you look at stories about crime rates in recent years, they accurately reflect the fact that crime is no longer rising. I just did a Google News search on “crime rate” and every single US story on the first page of results referred to declining or stable crime rates.

(Just as media coverage follows the real trend with a lag, media criticism follows media trends with a lag, I guess.)

17

John Emerson 02.28.07 at 8:00 pm

Sure, but there are still plenty of conservatives ranting about rising crime.

18

fred lapides 02.28.07 at 8:08 pm

You need to understand that Glenn so fully supports the Bush en terpirse that he knows that Sadr was left alone for a long time and that he caused problems and that Bush seemed afraid to do anything about it. Now, with the so-called surge, the Sadr militia is fair game excep that they are concealing weapons and playing nice. Thus this is the Instaguy’s way of saying that at last we are winning, the Bush plans is working, and the bad guys are on the run. I don’t believe this to be the case but then I am not a true believer, as Insta seems to be. But I may be wrong and if so it will not be the first or the last time.

19

lemuel pitkin 02.28.07 at 8:13 pm

there are still plenty of conservatives ranting about rising crime.

Not compared with ten years ago, there aren’t.

You really can be too cynical, you know.

20

Randy Paul 02.28.07 at 8:29 pm

Why does anyone thnking Glenn is capable of analyzing anything intelligently?

21

abb1 02.28.07 at 9:06 pm

Actually, crime may still be rising, only it’s rising inside the jails. Two million plus people in a mostly hobbesian setting will do plenty of it.

22

John Emerson 02.28.07 at 11:13 pm

OK, there are some people who have been talking about rising crime continuously since 1968. Most of them have also been talking about the decline of education during most of that time.

Glenn Reynolds resembles those people in that he’s been talking about declining Bani Sadr for five or so years ago.

It may be that there are less of them now than ten years ago, and they don’t control the major media, but my guess is that Op-Ed writers fall into the category I described now and then.

23

George W 03.01.07 at 4:11 am

Speaking to the original post, what *is* the real status of Sadr these days? Maybe GR has been too eager to conclude he’s finished (or at least to pass on that conclusion when made by others) but it does seem like Sadr has gradually become less and less of a risk — even if he hasn’t been entirely put to bed, and may never be.

My usual disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert on Iraq, only a newspaper reader. But many who do claim to be experts have wildly divergent opinions on this, generally correlated with whether the opinion-holder wishes the Iraq enterprise to go well or go poorly.

24

Guest 03.01.07 at 6:26 am

Comment No. 8 is spot-on. Who gives a shit what Reynolds thinks? It’s not like he’s serious, anyway. You may as well mock a 12-year-old online gamer.

25

John Quiggin 03.01.07 at 9:53 am

#23 As various people have pointed out, Sadr was demonised from the start for no good reason. Not that he’s a beacon of light or anything, but he’s no worse than any of the other militia leaders. The US decision to make war on him and his followers was both a war crime and a disastrous error.

Of course, now he is, if anything, a force for stability, using the “surge” to rid himself of some of his more out-of-control subordinates, while he waits for inevitable withdrawal.

#24 I don’t know who, but there are enough of them to make him #20 on the Technorati list.

26

Uncle Kvetch 03.01.07 at 1:35 pm

Who gives a shit what Reynolds thinks? It’s not like he’s serious, anyway.

Apparently the people who repeatedly book him on TV and radio shows, in which he is referred to as one of the US’s most important political bloggers, give a shit.

Reynolds may not be “serious,” but the “ignore them and they’ll go away” strategy just isn’t going to cut it here.

27

LWM 03.01.07 at 1:40 pm

As I remember, crime rates actually did rise pretty steadily for about ten years after 1968, but have been flat, fluctuating, or declining ever since.

Crime rates did rise during that period. It was a function of two contemporaneous statistical factors. First, the UCR, (Uniform Crime Reports) are voluntary and during that period more police agencies collected and reported their stats. But secondly and more importantly, the baby boomers came of age. Take a guess which age demographic is most likely to commit crimes. 14 to 45 is the prime crime committing demographic. After that, even hard core offenders tend to taper off. If you want to be picky about it, adjusting for these two statistical blips, crime rates have pretty much remained constant over time. Getting “tough on rampant crime” is just a political scam. They figured out long before 9/11 that fear is an excellent political tool and motivator.

28

Jon 03.01.07 at 2:33 pm

InstaPundit 2014: “THE INCREASINGLY IRRELEVANT Iraqi Prime Minister, Moqtada al-Sadr…”

29

George W 03.02.07 at 9:12 pm

John Q: I think Sadr was “demonised from the start” because he wanted to make Iraq a Shiite theocracy. And my recollection is that he used to be (thought to be) pretty pro-Iran. So the Coalition cast their lot with Sistani instead, the “quietist,” who seemed much more in favor of democracy and against Iranian influence. Of all the decisions made by the US/Coalition in this war, the decision to play nice with Sistani seems like of the least bad, and maybe actually good.

Sadr, meanwhile, launched two mini-wars agains Coalition forces, intended (I suspect) to result in Sadr as some sort of Iraqi ayatollah. Both were swatted down. So he turned to politics, where he’s been more successful. He’s routinely described as Maliki’s most important source of support, ergo untouchable. Ideally the leader of a political bloc would not have a private army, but as you say he may be no more nefarious than any other militia leader — if more powerful, and therefore more danderous. But now, if he’s really fled the country, the political tide may have also turned.

I don’t know the real answer of course. Maybe he’ll be back, stronger than before. But it does seem like the years-long effort to sideline a potentially very dangerous piece of the Iraqi puzzle may be getting somewhere.

Incidentally, what about the US’s dealings with Sadr represents a war crime? Unless you consider the whole affair a war crime, as many clearly do.

30

John Quiggin 03.03.07 at 4:20 am

George, your history is incorrect in lots of respects. For example, Sadr has always been known (at least by those who knew anything) as the most anti-Iranian of the major Shiites leaders. And of course, the stuff about him fleeing the country was more nonsense – he has shown the ability to avoid US forces without leaving Iraq in the past. And, most importantly, it wasn’t Sadr who launched mini-wars against the US, but vice versa. As regards who got “swatted down”, the history speaks for itself, I think.

To answer your last question, even if you think war to overthrow Saddam Hussein was justified, how can you justify a war against a political movement like Sadr’s, which had no particular quarrel with the US until they turned up in Iraq.

31

George W 03.03.07 at 9:02 pm

All these points are of course disputed. As I say, I don’t know the truth, and neither do you; amusing to see you describe yourself as someone who does.

32

John Quiggin 03.04.07 at 4:22 am

Certainly, they are disputed. You are apparently relying on the US Administration, while I’m relying mainly on Juan Cole and on direct reports from Reuters and similar. Again, history speaks for itself. If your sources had been right even 10 per cent of the time, the war would be over by now.

Feel free to point out an occasion on which the Administration has been proved right on Iraq on any disputed point (suggestions: WMDs, AQ links, “mission accomplished”, dead-enders, Allawi, Chalabhi, “good news from Iraq” in general). Then of course, there’s the point on which this thread began.

33

George W 03.04.07 at 4:51 am

Actually I’m not, at least not intentionally. The Bush White House is hardly credible in these matters. (Incidentally, if a story is sourced to a US military official, particularly one in Iraq, it’s not necessarily the Administration’s vetted line. It’s tempting to think the US works like that, but it doesn’t. Not all the time, anyways.) I do read a variety of news sources, and what I’ve read on Sadr is conflicting. One could read the tea leaves of events to say that Sadr is on the verge of being run out of town on a rail, or that he is the most powerul man in Iraq (though I can’t say I have seen much to support the notion that he is a “”force for stability”). In asking the question, I was hoping for perhaps some kind of knowledgeable analysis, from maybe someone who does know a bit about what’s going on, not regurgitated third-hand blog blather or this my-side, your-side shite. Forget I said anything.

34

John Quiggin 03.05.07 at 12:39 am

I’m sorry if you feel I haven’t taken you seriously, but your opening description of Sadr as pro-Iranian was so far off the mark as to suggest a very limited set of sources.

35

George W 03.05.07 at 3:55 am

Well I was aiming for more ambiguity than that; I did describe it as my recollection, and things change fast in this war. Just now I did a quick search of “sadr iran” and came up with a stew of conflicting viewpoints on this topic, including many that certainly don’t come from Administration sources. For instance, a year ago Al Jazeera ran a report that Sadr had pledged to defend Iran if it were attacked, e.g. by the US. Does that indicate Sadr is pro-Iran or is backed by Iran? No, not necessarily, but it makes it hard to describe Sadr as particularly anti-Iran. (link: http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=18043) (This interview was also blogged much more extensively by your man Juan Cole. In his transcription I found a rather amazing assertion by Sadr that military resistance against the occupation had “failed” and that Sadr was 100% political now. Link: http://www.juancole.com/2006/02/muqtada-al-sadr-on-aljazeera-ready-to.html).

I also found an analysis from last fall on antiwar.com that describes Sadr as one of Iran’s “Iraqi Shi’ite political-military allies” (link: http://www.antiwar.com/orig/porter.php?articleid=9724). (Incidentally, this article also supports your position that Sadr is the main power in Iraq today.)

On the other hand, an older analysis on tompaine.com, written by an editor for The Nation, says “Sadr’s relationship with Iran is unclear,” with both evidence for and against the connection — mostly against. (link: http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2005/09/22/badr_vs_sadr.php) (This article, by the way, also forthrightly describes Sadr as having “launched” two battles against American forces.)

And of course there are a raft of right-of-center sources that describe Sadr as Iran’s proxy, but I assumed you would dismiss these with a wave of your mouse (quite legitimately, in may cases).

Who’s right, if anybody? I certainly don’t know, but it seems safe to say that this issue (and every other one I mentioned) is quite disputed, and *not* just by the White House. Interestingly, though, the one position not represented in my unscientific sample is that Sadr is “the most anti-Iranian of the major Shiites leaders,” which, as you assert, is the position of those who know anything. Even a quick perusal of Juan Cole’s site did not turn up support for this idea, though Cole does say that “of all the major Shiite fo[r]ces, the Sadrists are the least close to Iran” (not quite the same thing). (Link: http://www.juancole.com/2006/01/muqtada-pledges-defense-of-iran-from.html)

John Q, I am not trying to trot out a battery of selectively culled web quotes to support one specific position, in the manner of your garden-variety comment troll. In fact I am trying to do the opposite; very little in this conflict can be “proved” one way or the other. I find your smug assertion of a single (and facile) interpretation of events to be galling. (Though to be fair, there’s not as much hard evidence against your interpretation as there is against Glenn Reynolds’. So your original criticism is apt.)

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