I am actually reluctant to blog about certain things actually happening in Iraq for a number of reasons. Obviously, I have personal reasons for that reluctance. In this case, I think I really need to write a bit about this latest story published in the Guardian.
Like Abu Omar before him, Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans. Abu Aisha fought in Baghdad's western Sunni suburbs, he was a former NCO in the Iraqi army and followed an extreme form of Islam known as Salafism.
Deep lines criss-crossed his narrow forehead and his eyes half closed when he tried to answer a question He seemed to evaluate every answer before he spoke. He claimed involvement in dozens of attacks on US and Iraqi troops, mostly IEDs (bombs) but also ambushes and execution of alleged Shia spies. "We have stopped using remote controls to detonate IEDs," he volunteered halfway through our conversation. "Only wires work now because the Americans are jamming the signals."
On his mobile phone he proudly showed me grainy images of dead bodies lying in the street, their hands tied behind their backs . He claimed they were Shia agents and that he had killed them. "There is a new jihad now," he said, echoing Abu Omar's warning. "The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."
In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.
"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis."
My son has told me on any number of occasions when we had a chance to talk that what is going on in Iraq right now is not a civil war. Rather it is a religious war. The fact is that al Qaeda and Iran are stirring this pot and both are aiming directly at building anti-war sentiment in the United States by doing so.
The Mahdi Army cannot win a force-on-force confrontation with the US military and it knows that. It may be able to do so against a heavily inflitrated ISF and it knows that as well.
The reported flow of arms may have been in anticipation of Congress forcing US withdrawal and the Mahdi army further asserting themselves in a play to take control of the country at some point (via real civil war). My guess is both Iran and as Sadr weren't anticipating a US surge in the aftermath of the election. Iran was most assuredly further shocked when its legation office was raided earlier in the week. While it may yield some intelligence, my guess is it was as much a warning as anything else that the game has changed.
Iran is sending arms into this conflict and I think McQ is exactly right here. Sadr was building up in anticipation of an American withdrawal. To the extent that the surge in US forces disrupts Sadr's – and his Iranian master's – plans, this is a good thing. (Incidentally, I do not for a second believe the Guardian's reporting that American military officers are involved in selling ammunition to the Sunni militias. I suspect that is massive propaganda from the insurgents.)