The AP reports today that as a result of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s recent offensive against Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, Sadr may “set aside his political ambitions” and restart “a full-scale fight against U.S.-led forces.” The violence would likely show “potentially disastrous security implications” across the country.
But Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is happy with the outcome. In a blogger conference call today, he said the results in Basra and southern Iraq were a “pleasant turn of events” in his view. Sadr, McCain says, is now marginalized. The bloggers reported on McCain’s responses:
Hot Air: It’s a “pleasant turn of events.” We’ve been pressing Maliki for action, and he persevered through some setbacks to success. Basra now is under Maliki’s control, and it has united the central government. Sadr is marginalized. “Overall, I’m rather pleased.”
Commentary: He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites.
Sadr is hardly marginalized; in fact, the opposite is likely true. As the AP notes, Sadr still commands at least 60,000 fighters — “5,000 thought to be highly trained commandos” — and he is “emboldened by its strong resistance to an Iraqi-led crackdown.”
It’s unclear what McCain is “rather pleased” about. Contrary to the “limited” role McCain saw, U.S. soldiers on the ground reported they bore the brunt of the responsibility when assisting Iraqi forces. Some estimates say roughly 400 civilians have been killed, including several Americans soldiers dying in the Green Zone.
Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained that Sadr’s bloc will remain a formidable force in Iraq:
[Sadr's militia] will be a major political force in any future elections regardless of whether Sadr survives, Sadrists are allowed to run, or the elections are fair or partly rigged. No one in Iraq goes quietly into that great night.
McCain has repeatedly misstated the outcome of the events in southern Iraq, for example, falsely claiming that Sadr “declared the ceasefire.” But, as he admitted last week when lauding the operation against Sadr, “Maybe I’m digging for the pony here.”
More on the Sadr surge in today’s Progress Report.