With obscenely obese Iraqi President Jalal Talabani checking into a clinic in the US, SIIC (Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council) President Abdul Aziz al-Hakim undergoing treatment for cancer in the US, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ineffective and corrupt administration falling apart at the seams, radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is positioning himself to seize power in Iraq.
Just the other day, my colleague Paul Hamilton reported on the Bush adminstration's botched attempt to assassinate Moqtada al-Sadr. Back in February, our good friend Lorie Byrd over at Wizbang and her crowd of devoted followers were crowing that Moqtada al-Sadr was essentially finished because he was seeking refuge in Iran. Well, I have bad news for Lorie and the rest of us. You haven't heard the last of Moqtada al-Sadr as we see in this report by the Associated Press:
From hiding, possibly in Iran, U.S. nemesis and radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to be honing plans to sweep into the power vacuum made all the more intense by news that his chief Shiite rival has lung cancer. And he's betting the U.S. won't keep its troops in Iraq much longer.
Al-Sadr also believes, his associates said, that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government may not last much longer, given its failure to improve security, services and the economy. A government collapse is certain to be followed by a political realignment in which the Sadrist movement stands a good chance of emerging as the main player. Al-Sadr's loyalists have 30 of parliament's 275 seats.
An Iraq with ultra-radical Sadrist Shiites holding dominant power would seek to curb U.S. influence and bolster the influence of clergy-ruled Iran throughout Iraq and possibly outside its borders in the Sunni Arab heartlands of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. It also could deepen the Shiite-Sunni divide and unleash a wave of Shiite militancy with offshoots joining forces with like-minded groups, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.
And guess who Sadr will be beholden to when he eventually does seize power:
Al-Sadr is said by U.S. officials to have been in Iran since he dropped out of sight some three months ago and is widely believed to be increasingly relying on Iran as the main sponsor of his movement. Moving closer to Iran now would be a timely tactic since Tehran's main Iraqi client, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, is widely thought to have forged closer ties with the United States and used a key party conference this month to adopt a new creed stating its commitment to Western values like human rights and democratic rule.
What will an Iraq ruled by Moqtada al-Sadr look like? Just take a look at Sadr City if you want to know the answer to that question:
A preview of a Sadrist-led Iraq can be found in Sadr City, a crowded Baghdad district where some 2.5 million Shiites live under the virtual governance of the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. Islamic Sharia courts operate freely in the neighborhood. Girls as young as 7 are forced to wear the Muslim veil. Stores selling alcohol have been forcibly shut. Religious punishments, like flogging those who violate Islam's ban on alcohol, are routine.
Were it not for George W. Bush, Moqtada al-Sadr would still be an obscure Shiite cleric with no power, few followers and certainly no armed militia in an Iraq still controlled by Saddam Hussein. I've commented before on how our incessant meddling in the Middle East often has unintended consequences (aka "blowback") that is far worse than the original situation. We installed the Shah in Iran only to end up with Khomeini. We assisted the Baathist rise to power in Iraq, only to end up with Saddam. We promoted elections in the Palestinian territory only to end up with Hamas. We liberated Iraq, only to end up with Moqtada al-Sadr.
Stop. Just stop.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!