April 16, 2007

What Goes Up...

Hatched by Sachi

I never cease to be astonished at how an event can flip from good to bad in a nanosecond -- depending on which way it needs to be spun to hurt George W. Bush.

Two fascinating stories out of Iraq in the last few days. Both would seem, at face value, to be good news. But in the hands of the skillful propagandists in the elite media, both turn into "proof" that the counterinsurgency isn't "working" (by "working," they mean "working perfectly without the slightest back and forth," like turning on a light):

  • In response to a large number of arrests of top leaders of the Mahdi Militia by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, forcing renegade cleric Muqtada Sadr himself to flee to Iran -- and to a series of sweeps through Mahdi Militia strongholds in Sadr City, forcing the terrorist group to exit Baghdad and flee south -- Sadr has now ordered those members of the Mahdi Militia who were ministers in Maliki's government to resign their portfolios in "protest." Thus, Muqtada Sadr's followers no longer infest the Iraqi cabinet.
  • Sadr called a "massive" rally in Najaf, his original stronghold -- and only 15,000 showed up (media sources across the world said "tens of thousands" attended, but none offered any source for that claim);

Those who have ever had the pleasure of going on a cruise (they're quite reasonable these days) are well aware of the old saying: Cruise-ship entertainers are either young kids on their way up or old has-beens on their way down. What you never see are established and popular acts; they're playing in New York or Los Angeles at $120 per ticket or more.

So using this analogy, does it look as though Muqtada is on his way up -- or dropping like a brick? I think the answer is obvious... and it couldn't happen to a viler guy.

Slither on to have your wisdom confirmed...

Giving up territory is never a sign of strength

The biggest objection people have had about Maliki over the past couple of years is that he is too close to Sadr, to the point of including members of the Mahdi Militia in his actual cabinet. For more than a year now, the United States has tried to get Maliki to sever ties with the terrorist group, to begin a crackdown on Shia as well as Sunni, and especially, to boot the militia out of the government.

Now he has done so -- and the elite media spin it as more evidence of failure! In fact -- honestly, I'm not kidding -- they now embrace Muqtada Sadr as their unofficial spokesman against the Bush administration's refusal to set a firm withdrawal date:

Cabinet ministers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government Monday, severing the powerful Shiite religious leader from the U.S.-backed prime minister and raising fears al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia might again confront American troops....

The political drama in Baghdad was not likely to bring down Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, but it highlighted growing demands among Iraqi politicians and voters that a timetable be set for a U.S. troop withdrawal - the reason al-Sadr gave for the resignations.

What a selfless guy, that Sadr; he joins hands across the ocean with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%) and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) to demand a specific "timetable" for Americans to declare defeat and go home.

And notice how AP tries to stigmatize Nouri al-Maliki by giving him the new title of "U.S.-backed prime minister"... as opposed to, say, "prime minister chosen by the majority of the Iraqi parliament, who were legitimately elected in a free and fair vote by the citizens of Iraq themselves." Is AP sinking so low that they're trying to encourage paranoid conspiracy mongers in Iraq (and America) who believe that Maliki is nothing but an American agent?

Well... yeah; that's exactly what they're trying to do:

The departure of the six ministers also was likely to feed the public perception that al-Maliki is dependent on U.S. support, a position he spent months trying to avoid. Late last year he went so far as to openly defy directives from Washington about legislative and political deadlines.

Why were Sadr's acolytes in the government in the first place? Obviously, because he believed their presence would influence, or even control, government policy. They threatened to leave several previous times, hoping that their departure would bring Maliki's government down.

Thus, Sadr believed he could ensure that the Shiite government would never go after the Mahdi Militia, and in fact would continue to stroke Sadr himself -- who might even at some future date deign to run for prime minister directly.

Might not the sudden failure of that scheme, as Maliki finally turned on them, be a more logical reason behind the resignations than the dubious idea that Sadr, from his hideout in mullah-controlled Iran, is just worried about the freedom and liberty of everyday Iraqis? (You know, just like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.)

So what will be the effect of the Mahdi Militia members quitting the cabinet? Simple: They will be replaced by ministers who actually care about Iraq, not about the elevation and aggrandizement of one man:

Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to al-Maliki, told The Associated Press that new Cabinet ministers would be named "within the next few days" and that the prime minister planned to recruit independents not affiliated with any political group. The nominees will need parliament's approval.

The media want to stoke fears that this means the Mahdi Militia will go on a rampage again; and it's very likely they will try. But in the meantime...

  • We have dramatically diminished their ranks, both leadership and street thugs.
  • We have severed their ties with the Shiite residents of Iraq.
  • We have humiliated their leader and forced him to flee to Iran -- thus confirming his continuning status as Ahmadinejad's sock puppet.
  • We're finally moving against the Mahdi Militia's trainers and suppliers, the Iranian Qods Force; we have captured Qods leaders, intercepted a large number of Iranian-built explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs), and broken up factories where militia members, under Iranian mentoring, were building their own EFPs.
  • And we've already swept through and invested large parts of Sadr City, reducing the militia's territory and denying them safe haven from which to launch attacks.

There will be a spasm of violence for a while; Muqtada Sadr knows that his allies in the American Congress are begging for enough bad news to enable them to force the United States to give Sadr -- and al-Qaeda -- the greatest gift possible: our absence. Indeed, it has already begun:

With the political link severed, there are signs al-Sadr's pledge to control the militia might be broken as well. Forty-two victims of sectarian murders were found in Baghdad the past two days, after a dramatic fall in such killings in recent weeks. U.S. and Iraqi officials have blamed much sectarian bloodshed on Shiite deaths squads associated with the Mahdi Army.

They'll try; what else can they do, having "severed" their "political link" with the prime minister? (In fact, it was the other way around: Sadr's ministers resigned because we finally persuaded Maliki to sever his political links with them.)

But the counterinsurgency never expected -- or depended upon -- Sadr's continued presence by proxy in the Iraqi cabinet. In fact, it's best that all Iranian agents, including Muqtada Sadr, be booted out of all government positions. We want former Iraqi radicals to lay down their arms and join the political system... but we absolutely cannot tolerate Iranian lapdogs running Iraq. That is a prescription for national suicide.

Clearly, losing power in the cabinet cannot possibly be a sign that Sadr is on his way up. But how about the fizzled Najaf rally? What does that tell us?

What if they gave an uprising and nobody came?

Soon after we wrote about The 15,000-Man Million-Man March called by Sadr, Zeyad of Healing Iraq questioned that figure; he believes that there were actually many more people present, and that this proves Sadr's strength is growing, not shrinking. (We cannot figure out the permalink of any of Zeyad's posts; you'll just have to scroll down and try to find it. Sorry! It has no title, but it begins with a photo of a medium-sized gathering of people.)

He objects that "bloggers" (a small number who reposted from the original article on Gateway Pundits) posted what they thought was a picture of the rally in Najaf, but which turned out to be a photo of a 2005 rally in Baghdad. The photograph -- clearly a news-type photo taken from a nearby helicopter or small airplane, not aerial surveillance -- was posted by Multi National Force - Iraq (MNF-I) to accompany the article about the rally.

MNF-I never said that the posted photo was of the Najaf rally, and certainly it was not one of the "aerial surveillance pictures" that the military intelligence officers used to determine the total number of attendees: It doesn't look anything like that sort of aerial photography, as can clearly be seen in this comparison of surveillance of Iran's Natanz nuclear-weapons facility and the photo that appeared on Gateway Pundits and other blogs:

Aerial surveillance of Natanz    rally in Baghdad

Aerial surveillance of Natanz (L), news photo of Baghdad rally (R)

More than likely, it was simply added by the MNF-I webmaster as "eye candy," and he stupidly pulled a file photo of a different rally at a different city at a different time. (As my old DI would say, "yeah, just do it any old way.") But Zeyad is properly irked:

Some bloggers have taken this photo, published in a U.S. military report on the Sadrist demonstration in Najaf, and are running with it as proof that the demonstration was not as large as the media made it to be. And now the photo is all over the blogosphere.

Except that it's not really in Najaf. It's actually a photo of central Baghdad just outside the Sheraton Hotel. Ironically, the misleading photo was posted by bloggers who routinely attack the media for its perceived bias and sloppy reporting.

Zeyad used to be such a pro-America optimistic guy; but ever since he came to the US, he has been poisoned by Democratic "doom and gloomism." But in this case, he was right to point out the mistake, but not to leap to the conclusion that this means the rally was huge.

In fact, we do have a good idea of its actual size, notwithstanding the photo mixup. We quoted from Reuters in our previous post:

Reuters journalists estimated the size of the crowd at tens of thousands, while organizers said the number was far greater. The U.S. military said aerial surveillance pictures showed that 15,000 took part.

However, attacking bloggers who used this photo is unfair. Unlike Zeyad, most of us have never been to Iraq, and we wouldn't know a picture of Baghdad from one of Najaf.

But the main point is that most bloggers do not have the skills or the equipment to properly estimate the size of crowds simply by looking at a picture or two, and that includes Zeyad himself; if he had such training, he would have told us. He is no more able to gauge the size of the rally by looking at the photos he linked than he is to estimate the size of the Baghdad rally in the photo the bloggers posted.

But the intelligence officers at MNF-I do have that skillset, and they have the specialized software to help them: that's their job, estimating the size of, for example, an enemy military unit.

In any event, it doesn't really matter which photograph was posted on the web site, as long as the MNF-I MI officers used the correct aerial surveillance photographs to determine the figure; and as you can see above, it would be impossible for them to confuse the one with the other.

So far, I have not seen any other aerial-surveillance estimate other than 15,000 as originally reported. The elite media have never explained where they got their own claim of "tens of thousands of people."

By the way, here are another pair of photos for you to compare and contrast:

Najaf march    Karachi march

The photo on the left is of the march from Kufa to Najaf that preceded the rally last Monday. The photo on the right is of a march in Karachi, Pakistan, protesting against a hard-line Islamist school. Yes, an anti-al-Qaeda/Islamist march.

Here is what Reuters' caption to this photograph says:

Supporters of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a coalition partner in Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's government, attend a rally in Karachi April 15, 2007. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi on Sunday to show their opposition to a radical religious school which has begun a Taliban style anti-vice campaign in the capital, Islamabad.

I wonder... does Reuters simply have a key-press macro that reads "tens of thousands of people?"

Nearly all mainstream media described this 15,000-man march as "massive," or "impressive." They desperately want to prove that Sadr is still a force to reckon with in Iraq... because they believe that will force us to embrace defeat and redeploy our troops to nearby Okinawa. Certainly, that is what Zeyad the pessimist believes; he links to actual pictures from the Najaf rally that he appears to believe prove it was massive and impressive (this is the set from Iraq Slogger, from which I copied the picture above on the left).

But is it really? If this were a local blood drive, it would definitely be considered "massive." But for a rally called by Sadr, it falls well short of his previous efforts -- and therefore shows a falling, not a rising star.

Let's recall what kind of crowds Sadr used to regularly gather. Back in August 2006, Zeyad's old school mate, Omar from Iraq the Model, reported on a rally held in Sadr City:

After all, popularity polls do not necessarily reflect the truth and today's demonstration indicates that as well; see, instead of the million figure that Sadr was aspiring to see in Baghdad and out of supposedly 2 million Shia residents of Sadr city only 100 000 showed up and that's only after Sadr summoned demonstrators from the southern provinces and sent busses to fetch them and let's not forget that the demonstration took place in Sadr's own stronghold where it's supposed to take no effort from supporters to show up and march; technically they were asked to march in their own front yard.

A hundred thousand! That is seven times as large as this Najaf rally. And in the past, Sadr has managed to orchestrate rallies of 400,000 plus supporters. So he has gone from nearly half a million, to about a hundred thousand, to fifteen thousand. Which way -- up or down -- would you say that indicates?

Some might argue that since Baghdad is a much bigger city, you would expect a much bigger rally ("Sadr City" is a slum suburb of sprawling Baghdad). But remember, Najaf was Sadr's original stronghold; that was where his 2004 "uprising" erupted. Even though Sadr City was named after Muqtada Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the Mahdi Militia was not a large force in Sadr City back then. As Muqtada Sadr's strength grew, he moved his organization into the capital city of Iraq -- and that was a sign that he was on his way up.

But now, after three years of fighting, and after the expanding crackdown on the Mahdi Militia's insurgency, Sadr is back to calling rallies in Najaf, to which he can barely gather 15% of the strength he could muster a scant eight months ago... and he is too frightened to show up to his own demonstration.

I wonder how many fewer people would have come, had they known beforehand that Sadr himself wasn't going to show his face?

Going... down?

So let's review the seqence of events:

  • We have a terrorist group that used to have six members in the Iraqi cabinet itself... but now they're gone.
  • The terrorist leader issues a call for a colossal rally... but only 15,000 show up; and that number includes many who wouldn't have come, had they known the leader himself would not be present at his own rally.
  • And the reason the terrorist leader didn't dare attend the rally is that he's currently hiding inside Iraq's greatest enemy, Iran, because he's so afraid he'll be seized if he returns to his "home" country.

Sadr and his Mahdi Militia -- it pleases him to call it an "army" -- are not just on their way down; they're swirling around the bowl, about ready to be flushed. They'll remain dangerous to individual victims for some time to come; but their days of glory, when it looked as though they might end up ruling Shiite Iraq, are gone... and such days do not come again.

Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, "We will return no more";
And all at once they sang, "Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam."

Alfred Lord Tennyson, "the Lotos-Eaters," 1833, rev. 1842

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 16, 2007, at the time of 6:51 PM

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Bill Roggio reports: Muqtada Sadr has left the building. In fact, he has emigrated from Iraq (again) for Iran (again). Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Shia Mahdi Army and the Sadrist bloc in parliament, has left Iraq and... [Read More]

Tracked on July 10, 2007 3:36 AM


The following hissed in response by: dasbow

OK, so he's on his way down - I still say we should kill him. If we'd only done it in 2004 when we had the chance and, we'd have saved ourselves a lot of frustration. A short spike in violence for Mookie's briefly remembered 'martyrdom' would have been preferable to the carnage his thugs and minions have inflicted over the past 3 years.

The above hissed in response by: dasbow [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 17, 2007 10:05 AM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

What a selfless guy, that Sadr; he joins hands across the ocean with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%) and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) to demand a specific "timetable" for Americans to declare defeat and go home.

Great paragraph!!! Thank Karma that humble me wasn't swigging down a beer whilst reading it, else my new 19" widescreen would now be soaked...so to speak with a smile on my mug.

(NOTE: Sachi, i am enjoying reading yore post here, and shall bounce around more than i normally do, as i take the liberty to do so as MSM's reporters do in their reporting...per apnews.excite.com linked article.)

In response to a large number of arrests of top leaders of the Mahdi Militia by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, forcing renegade cleric Muqtada Sadr himself to flee to Iran -- and to a series of sweeps through Mahdi Militia strongholds in Sadr City, forcing the terrorist group to exit Baghdad and flee south -- Sadr has now ordered those members of the Mahdi Militia who were ministers in Maliki's government to resign their portfolios in "protest." Thus, Muqtada Sadr's followers no longer infest the Iraqi cabinet.

There is a serious game of Chess going on between the US and Iran, and it looks like Sadr has been reduced to a captured pawn...so to speak of Iran 'harboring' him.

From Stratfor's "Iraq: Tehran's Shiite Housekeeping and U.S. Talks":

Hours after six ministers belonging to radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc pulled out of the government April 16, protesters in the oil-rich southern city of Basra led by al-Sadr's followers demanded the dismissal of the city's governor. These latest developments reveal a strategy by Iran to restore order in the Iraqi Shiite house to better manage its dealings with the United States regarding Iraq.


In an attempt to counter the unraveling of his movement, al-Sadr is now taking a calculated risk by threatening to break the already deeply fractured United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the ruling Shiite Islamist coalition led by al-Maliki. Al-Sadr's 32 seats in parliament allow him to hold a majority in this coalition, giving him substantial bargaining power. The fourth-largest component of this coalition, the Fadhila party, recently left the UIA government, making al-Maliki all the more dependent on al-Sadrite parliamentarians. Though al-Sadr has only pulled out his ministers in this latest move, he is signaling he could just as easily withdraw completely from the government, depriving al-Maliki of his ruling coalition. Al-Sadr expects that the ruling Iraqi Shiite bloc will have little choice but to appease the rebel leader and allow his loyalists a more prominent role in the state security apparatus such that al-Sadr can preserve the Mehdi Army.

i'm not sure what "six ministers" and "32 seats in parliament" means...math wise, but Sadr is in Iran.

"What a selfless guy" that Sadr is...whilst he is vacationing in Iran, huh.

Did i say Chess game?!? This is starting to look like some kind of a overlapping of 3D rectangles arrayed in a matrix of 3D mathematical elements that form a really weird version of a 'Love Triangle', with Sadr between the US and Iran whilst he holds hands with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (who was seen holding hands with both Syria's President Bashar Assad and Iran's Mohammad Nabi Rudaki at the same time)!?!

(Scheeeeeeeeesssh!!! Sorry, typing finger, i shall never try that again...)

Up to this point, Sachi and i agree...i think, close enough anyway.

So what will be the effect of the Mahdi Militia members quitting the cabinet? Simple: They will be replaced by ministers who actually care about Iraq, not about the elevation and aggrandizement of one man:

Humble Low and Ignorant Insane swamp hermit me ain't so sure about that last block-quoted paragraph...uuummmmmmmmm. We're talking about a War against Terrorism, its Terrorists, and its Supporters of Terrorism...whilst engaged in a battle to get Iraq back on it's foots (or foot for some of Saddam's victims). Iran is a major player, and Nancy Pelosi was recently seen holding hands with both Syria's President Bashar Assad and Iran's Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, whilst also holding hands with Sadr and Harry Reid...*ALL* at basically the same time!?! Don't even ask...

Enough. In closing, another trip back to Stratfor's most recent article on this 3D'ed mess..."Geopolitical Diary: U.S., Iran Lose From Major Changes in Baghdad":

This is the point at which U.S. and Iranian interests begin to converge; both Washington and Tehran cannot afford to see the collapse of the current political arrangement. The Bush administration can no longer afford to start from scratch in forming a new coalition government. As for the Iranians, the current arrangement is the best it can expect from a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. It cannot get any better for Tehran but it can certainly get worse.

Remember...Sadr is in Iran on a 'vacation' (he must have a lot-of-pull in order to skip the line, huh).

Therefore, Cabinet reshuffles in keeping with the current power-sharing mechanism are tolerable, but any changes to the basic political formula brought about by the withdrawal of one or more factions from the Cabinet and/or parliamentary coalition could be detrimental to both Washington and Tehran.

If anyone thinks that being a prisoner in Guantanamo is bad, then they have obviously never taken a vacation to Iran...so to speak.


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 17, 2007 5:22 PM

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