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US seeks Shiite collaboration in attack on Moqtada al-Sadr
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the main Shiite political rival of the anti-occupation cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is in the US today for personal discussions with George Bush. Coming just days after the meeting between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Hakim’s visit is another sign of preparations for an armed confrontation with the Sadrist Mahdi Army militia in its Baghdad stronghold and an attempt by the US to refashion its puppet regime in Iraq.
Bush’s central demand last week was that Maliki turn on the Sadrists—his principal ally within the Shiite coalition that dominates the Iraqi parliament. While there are tactical divisions in US ruling circles over Iraq policy, there is agreement among both Republicans and Democrats that Sadr and his movement have to be destroyed. Sadr’s continuing insistence on a timetable for the withdrawal of all American troops and on Iraq’s right to determine how its oil resources are exploited, combined with its maintenance of a militia believed to number between 40,000 and 60,000 men, is viewed as a significant and growing threat to the US strategic plan of indefinite domination over Iraq. Thousands of additional American troops are currently being deployed to Baghdad to prepare for an operation against the Mahdi Army.
Aides to the Iraqi prime minister told Associated Press that Maliki once again baulked at the US demands. He warned Bush that the Sadr’s supporters would resist the entry of the US military into Sadr City and were bitterly opposed to disbanding their militia when Sunni Arab extremists were carrying out repeated atrocities against Shiite civilians. The fact Maliki met with Bush has outraged millions of Sadrist loyalists and forced al-Sadr—dubbed by Newsweek magazine as the “most dangerous man in Iraq”—to order his 30 loyalists in the parliament, including five cabinet ministers, to boycott the government until a US withdrawal timetable is announced.
It is under these conditions that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has flown to Washington. Direct US talks with Hakim were among the recommendations made to Bush’s cabinet in the November 8 memo authored by his national security advisor Stephen Hadley.
The memo proposed that the US ratchet up the pressure on Maliki to break his political alliance with Moqtada al-Sadr and sanction the destruction of the Mahdi Army militia. It warned, however, that “pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure” as it would immediately pose the prospect of rebellions by Sadrist supporters in the Iraqi police and army and “major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq”. The US, Hadley declared, would need to help Maliki “form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities”.