Iraq PM Stops Protecting Shiite Militia

Someone lit a lamp at one end of the tunnel, within the mind of Nouri al-Maliki. I hope it stays on.

This from the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister has dropped his protection of an anti-American cleric’s Shiite militia after U.S. intelligence convinced him the group was infiltrated by death squads, two officials said Sunday.

In a desperate bid to fend off an all-out American offensive, the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last Friday ordered the 30 lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers under his control to end their nearly two- month boycott of the government. They were back at their jobs Sunday. Al-Sadr had already ordered his militia fighters not to display their weapons. They have not, however, ceded control of the formerly mixed neighborhoods they have captured, killing Sunnis or forcing them to abandon their homes and businesses.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s turnaround on the Mahdi Army was puzzling [emphasis added mine] because as late as Oct. 31, he had intervened to end a U.S. blockade of Sadr City, the northeast Shiite enclave in Baghdad that is headquarters to the militia. It is held responsible for much of the sectarian bloodshed that has turned the capital into a battle zone over the past year.

“Al-Maliki realized he couldn’t keep defending the Mahdi Army because of the information and evidence that the armed group was taking part in the killings, displacing people and violating the state’s sovereignty,” said one official. Both he and a second government official who confirmed the account refused to be identified by name because the information was confidential. Both officials are intimately aware of the prime minister’s thinking.

“The Americans don’t act on rumors but on accurate intelligence. There are many intelligence agencies acting on the ground, and they know what’s going on,” said the second official, confirming the Americans had given al-Maliki overwhelming evidence about the Mahdi Army’s deep involvement in the sectarian slaughter.

Earlier this month, Bush and al-Maliki separately announced a new security drive to clamp off the sectarian violence that has riven the capital and surrounding regions. Bush announced an additional 21,500 American soldiers would be sent to accomplish the task and al-Maliki has promised a similar number of forces, who will take the lead in the overall operation.

The other end of that tunnel, the United States Congress, looks darker. Symbolic votes of protest might pacify political constituencies yet they also send the wrong signal to both Shiite and Sunni militias. Worse still, blocking funds in order to prevent those 21,000 U.S. troops from deploying would provide al-Maliki with a reason to withhold those matching forces.

The right time to leave Iraq is after we’ve ensured it will not immediately slip into a full-scale civil war, not before.

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