April 10, 2007

The 15,000-Man Million-Man March

Hatched by Sachi

Renegade "cleric" Muqtada Sadr, still in hiding in Iran, called for a Million Man March to protest the fourth anniversary of the American occupation of Iraq... a huge show of force that would stagger the crusader infidels and send them fleeing in terror from Allah's land between the two rivers.

Yesterday in Najaf, his prayers were answered. But the fates are fickle with prayer, and sometimes the answer is "No."

The mighty al-Mahdi Militia gathered, along with its acolytes, camp followers, groupies, hangers on, and sunshine allies. They gathered to demonstrate Sadr's strength in the Shiite community and show contempt for America. But while the precise number of people gathered was... dicey, it turned out to be embarassingly small.

The elite media couldn't seem to get their testimony straight. The protest drew "tens of thousands," according to AP; but then they quoted a source who claimed an order of magnitude higher:

Tens of thousands of Shiites - a sea of women in black abayas and men waving Iraqi flags - marched from Kufa to Najaf on Monday, demanding U.S. forces leave their country on the fourth anniversary of fall of Baghdad. Streets in the capital were silent and empty under a hastily imposed 24-hour driving ban.

Demonstrators ripped apart American flags and tromped across a Stars and Stripes rug flung on the road between the two holy cities for the huge march, ordered up by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a show of strength not only to Washington but to Iraq's establishment Shiite ayatollahs as well...

Brig. Abdul Kerim al-Mayahi, the Najaf police chief, said there were as many as 600,000 in the march, although other estimates were significantly lower. He said 30 lawmakers made the hike and there was no American troop presence except surveillance from helicopters hovering above.

(We have no word yet on whether Police Brigadier Abdul Kerim al-Mayahi is related to Police Captain Jamil Hussein, but we're still searching for the latter -- who is "a person of interest" in the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman -- on every golf course in Southern California.)

Bill Roggio found some different numbers (neither "tens of thousands" nor "600,000"); the crowd size continued to shrink:

The demonstration in Najaf has been muted. While the Middle East Online claimed "hundreds of thousands of Shiites burned and trampled on US flags," the reality is the protest was far smaller than Sadr would have liked. Reuters puts the protest size in the thousands, and during a press round table briefing today, Rear Admiral Mark Fox noted the Coalition is closely monitoring the protest, and put the numbers at 5 to 7 thousand. The protest is monitored both on the ground and via air, which allows for a relatively accurate count of the numbers of protesters.

Reuters chimed in with a hearty "me too!" on the AP guesstimate ("tens of thousands"). Well, that's quite a range of guesses! But the definitive estimate was that based upon aerial photography by Multinational Force - Iraq:

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.

Naturally, Sadr himself was a no-show for his own protest. Instead he issued series of written statements, including this message to the Iraqi police and army -- almost as if he were live-blogging his Not-Quite-a-Million Mahdi March from a remote location in Tehran:

"And here we can see in ... (Diwaniyah), a civil strife the occupier planned, to drag the brothers into clashing, fighting and even killing... Oh (Mahdi Army) and my brothers (Iraqi forces) enough of this clashing and killing. This is success for your enemy ... and (Iraqi army and police) don't be dragged behind the enemy... God has ordered you to be patient in front of the enemy and to unify your efforts against it, not against the sons of Iraq."

Bill Roggio aptly describes this as a "plea." Certainly, these are not the words of a defiant, winning leader; they read more like a desperate man who sees la rêve slipping away.

What, Sadr, desperate? Why, the man can still call a... well, not quite so large a protest march, but bigger than CAIR can get nowadays. And badness knows, the Mahdi Militia can still put up a fight; well, sort of.

But let's examine Sadr's original plan, how he dreamed the war would play out.

Back in January, when the Coalition and the Iraqi Army initiated the current counterinsurgency operation, Sadr actually ordered his men to stand down. He ordered them not to resist, even if they were arrested. At that time, he made several unfortunate assumptions:

  • That Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was no more serious about this "crackdown" on the Shiite militias than he was about the previous ones. Maliki will just make a token effort, he thought, to appease the Americans and relieve some of the pressure on President Bush.
  • That the American surge wouldn't last. Sadr assumed he could hunker down, hide in Iran, and wait it out. After Congress forced Bush to retreat, Sadr would triumphantly ride back into Baghdad atop a flying carpet, the savior and true Mahdi.
  • And finally, that Sadr could use the "crusaders" to rid himself of dangerously insubordinate followers. He would set them up, deliberately leaking intelligence to the Coalition, which would be so good as to take care of a few potential rivals.

Well... that was the plan, anyway.

Sadr turned out to be a dreadful prophet. First of all, miraculously enough, Maliki was serious this time. Who woulda thunk it? The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government started really cracking down on the militias, especially including Sadr's own.

The omnipotent Mahdi Militia was driven out of the Sadr City slums of Baghdad and forced to run southward... where the American and Iraqi forces were waiting. Caught between the Devil and the deep, blue anvil, they were rolled up and ground down, slain via air strikes if they stood and captured by the dozens if they ran. Again from Bill Roggio:

Operation Black Eagle, the security operation against Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army in the central Shia city of Diwaniyah, has entered its fourth day. The last news from the city indicates 39 fighters have been captured and "several" killed. Two known insurgent leaders have also been captured during the operation.

Diwaniyah is the city where large segments of Sadr's Mahdi Army fled to after the commencement of the Baghdad Security Plan, a U.S. intelligence official told us.

It's almost never a clever strategy to hand your territory over to the enemy. Now that the Iraqi Army with their embedded Coalition allies have dug in to hold what they have captured -- an important element of Lt.Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency -- it's dramatically more difficult for the Shia to attack it than to have defended it in the first place.

In addition, it is none so easy to control a wild bunch like the Mahdi Militia, who are more or less a confederation of teenaged thugs. They have neither the discipline nor the patience of a real army. Without Sadr's constant presence, they will wander off to sniff every tree and fire hydrant they pass.

In fact, some of Sadr's men are already trying to reconcile with the Iraqi government. So it goes.

Sadr evidently has suddenly realized his gross miscalculation. He calls for an all-out war against the "occupier." But it is too late; Sadr's moment has passed, and it will not come again, it will not come, ever again.

The fact that he is too frightened to materialize for his own protest stinks of weakness. The miserably small demonstration stinks of more weakness, as does his rapidly disintegrating Mahdi "Army" and his loss of control over its remnants.

What was supposed to demonstrate Muqtada Sadr's strength instead illuminates his increasing irrelevance to the new and democratic Republic of Iraq.

And yes... that certainly is "good news."

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 10, 2007, at the time of 5:44 AM

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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... [Read More]

Tracked on April 16, 2007 6:52 PM


The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

Don't forget the NYTimes, they are on the other side also.
Huge Protest in Iraq Demands U.S. Withdraw By Edward Wong in the NYTimes on April 10, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 9 — Tens of thousands of protesters loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, took to the streets of the holy city of Najaf on Monday in an extraordinarily disciplined rally to demand an end to the American military presence in Iraq, burning American flags and chanting “Death to America!”

What an original chant!

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 10, 2007 9:23 AM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

?!? Heck, after all the press headings that i glanced at whilst surfing, humble me had thought that all Iraqis but One turned out in protest!?!

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 10, 2007 2:34 PM

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