Friday, March 30, 2007

Are 'Mookie's boys" escalating in Baghdad?

This photo accompanies a story in the military paper Stars and Stripes. (Photo: Monte Morin/Stars and Stripes)

full caption reads:

An Iraqi woman walks her children past a group of U.S. soldiers with Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in the southeastern Baghdad neighborhood of Obaidy. The 1-8 CAV is currently attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The story itself is about Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (JAM) in Baghdad, and it uses a common soldier's nickname for Muqtada: Mookie’s’ boys make troops take notice by Monte Morin Stars and Stripes 03/30/07. Morin writes:

The music said it all - Mookie’s boys were back in town.

U.S. Army Capt. Bruce Beardsley and his civil affairs team had barely stepped from their Humvees in this dust-blown quarter of New Baghdad recently when a bank of speakers stacked beside a tattered market began blaring a Mahdi Army militia chant.

"It’s their version of Psyops (psychological operations)," said Beardsley, a 38-year-old reservist and Maryland police officer.
Morin reports that, after laying low elsewhere, Muqtada's JAM is "flowing back into eastern Baghdad’s sewage-scented sprawl." Morin's reporting implies without exactly saying so that JAM is starting to make increased attacks on American troops. And he reports:

At the same time, Sadr has made recent statements renouncing his call for peace at the start of the security plan.

"News of the surge freaked everybody out," Beardsley said of the militiamen.

"They thought it was going to be a Saddam-style surge and that we would kill everybody. Instead, it was an American surge."
Since Morin uses that last quotation to explain what he's describing as a failure of the McCain escalation (The Surge), it's ambiguous at best as to whether Beardsley and/or Morin is saying that the difference between "a Saddam-style surge" and "an American surge" is considered a good thing or not.

In any case, it's far more likely that JAM has been deliberately avoiding clashes with American troops not because they expected the Americans to practice genocide in the Shi'a parts of the city but because they were happy to have the Americans stomp the Sunni guerrillas to the extent they could and thereby help their side in the civil war. Muqtada's political bloc in parliament, after all, is voting with the Shi'a-dominated government.

Juan Cole wrote at his Informed Comment blog on

Thousands of followers of Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated on Friday against the new security plan, and one of his lieutenants read out a message calling for non-cooperation with the United States. This was not, as some reports suggest, a call to arms. Muqtada knows that his Mahdi Army cannot fight the US military in a conventional, head-on way. He has only called for such almost suicidal missions when he felt that his own life and the survival of his movement were put in danger by US officials determined to kill him, as in April-May, 2004. Muqtada has ordered his militiamen not to violently confront the US, as WaPo pointed out. Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that Muqtada said in his statement that the people of Sadr City (Shiite East Baghdad) should decline to cooperate with the US because its forces "are trying to besmirch its reputation by upholding false allegations and rumors that there are negotiations and cooperation between you and them." He added, "I am sure that you consider them your enemies ... for the enemy of God is inevitably your enemy." It sounds to me as though Muqtada is embarrassed about the degree of cooperation recently between his movement and the US, and he wants at least publicly to distance himself from the US and the security plan, without having to do more than issue a communique. (my emphasis)
I don't know if the Stars and Stripes report was referring to these stories from around two weeks ago, or if there was new information in terms of Muqtada's "recent statements renouncing his call for peace at the start of the security plan", to which Morin refers.

Morin's article contains some hopeful talk about improving security in the Shi'a parts of town and more cooperation with the Americans. We've heard this kind of talk for over four years now.


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