Following his speech on Iraq yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) held a conference call with conservative bloggers.
One blogger, Ed Morrissey, asked about efforts by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to oppose the new U.S. Baghdad security plan. According to two reports of the call, McCain repeated his prediction that Sadr wouldn’t end up opposing U.S. forces, but admitted he may be “digging for the pony.”
I asked the Senator whether Moqtada al-Sadr’s new orders for the Mahdi Army to attack American forces could cause a collapse of the Maliki government. McCain thinks Sadr is mostly bluffing; he waited too long and has not made a personal appearance for too long, and a defeat at the hands of the American and Iraqi forces would finish him. Joking that he was “digging for the pony here,” he predicted that Sadr would back down as he has in the past rather than take that big of a gamble.
Ed also asks about al-Sadr fighting back against the surge. McCain said that he’s heard that before, but it never happened. Says it’s interesting that demonstrations that took place in Najaf yesterday were peaceful. While they wanted us out, it’s a good sign that they demonstrate peacefully.
As to Sadr, McCain says he’s in a bit of a “tenuous situation” because people are tired of executions and killings. Saying a good sign is a big reduction in the number of bodies on the streets of Bagdhad every day. Still not good.
Says he may be “digging for the pony”, but doesn’t think al-Sadr would make good on threats because if he loses, then he’s “finished”. Shouldn’t want “all or nothing” with US, and that Iraqi military is getting stronger.
As ThinkProgress documented, McCain wrote in an op-ed on Sunday that “al-Sadr is in hiding, his followers are not contesting American forces.” The very next day, Sadr released a statement urging Iraqis to consider the U.S. their “archenemy” and to “turn all their efforts on American forces.”
Sadr called a rally on Tuesday where “hundreds of thousands of Shia protesters…burned and trampled on US flags in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf.” On Saturday, Reuters reported, “Iraqi and U.S. forces clashed with Shi’ite militia loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr…in a dawn operation aimed at returning the volatile city of Diwaniya to government control.”
All aboard the Pony Express!