The LA Times reports today that, due to political pressure from Sunnis, the U.S. military is now considering entering Sadr City as part of its security crackdown. This signifies a shift in strategy that many feared. Bush’s top advisers on the recent surge warned last month that entering the Shi’ite neighborhood would “unnecessarily unite the country’s now-splintered Shiite leadership” and “would almost certainly force the [Al Mehdi militia] into [a direct] confrontation with American troops.” There has been careful consideration of the military’s failed attempt to control the city in 2004 and that of the fact that among ruin and chaos in Baghdad, the neighborhood is a beacon of prosperity and calm (due to a hefty chunk of reconstruction funds from the government).
But according to the Times, all this consideration will likely be thrown out the window and surge advocates are doing a 180. It looks like once again, we are about to make a military error. What is most interesting about this shift is that, in part, it stems from rumors that Mehdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr has fled to Iran, opening a window for the U.S. military to move in. This rumor appears not to be true. Military analyst and surge adviser, Frederick Kagan also says that he “overestimated the Sadrists and underestimated Maliki.” So, let’s get this straight. We are going to enter a relatively secure (the surge is about security, right?) area, because of false intelligence and due to a lack of respect for our enemy.
In addition, there are broader consequences that a mistake like this could have within the Iraqi government. As Tim Grieve points out over at Salon‘s War Room:
Sadr and his supporters make up one of the key constituencies of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; if Sadr were to withdraw that support, Maliki’s government might well collapse.”
Rest assured, a collapse of the Iraqi government would do nothing for the security of the country. And, yes, we can’t ignore the fact that Sadr City is a safe haven for the Mehdi Army and has spawned death squads, but I guarantee a few thousand troops can’t do anything about that, except, maybe, make the situation worse.