Sadr tries to use dwindling clout to kill status agreement

Miami Herald:

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Wednesday offered full support for Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government if it refuses to sign an agreement President Bush has sought to allow semi-permanent stationing of U.S. troops in Iraq. Sadr warned at the same time that he would oppose any agreement between Iraq and the United States.

Sadr's followers have abandoned active resistance in recent months, as Maliki's government has asserted its authority in military offensives around the country. Sadr's statement, posted Wednesday on his website, said that elements of his insurgency had erred in targeting fellow Iraqis and called for a centralized resistance directed only against U.S. occupiers.

Declaring that resistance to an occupier ''is a legitimate right by human reason and in Islamic and human law,'' he called on Shiite clerics to ``issue their fatwas against signing any agreement between the government and the occupier, even if it is for friendship or any other purpose.''

But on the issue of the status of forces agreement, he offered Maliki a deal: ''I call upon the Iraqi government again not to sign this agreement and I inform them I am ready to support it popularly and politically if they do not sign it,'' he said.

Much of the 11-point statement seemed intended to curb the internecine warfare carried out in his name since 2006, when the bombing of the al Askara Shiite shrine in Samara set off a wave of retaliatory killings between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Before it abated, Shiite death squads were targeting other Shiites, and al Sadr -- scion of a family of clerics who once drew respect from Shia and Sunni alike -- had lost credibility with all but his most devoted followers.

The statement sets careful limits to resistance, condemning any freelance guerrilla action.

It also prohibits his followers from targeting civilians and government services, and bars any resistance actions in cities.

With provincial elections on the horizon, Sadr -- who still has parliamentary influence through his Sadrist Party -- may be maneuvering against rival Shiite factions and the ruling Dawa Party, said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

...

I think Sadr has been so discredited that the government can ignore him at this point. He is trying to do politically what he failed to do militarily. I suspect he will fail again. I also beleive he will lose strength in the coming elections. This is a guy hiding in Iran. He fled there with the announcement of the serge and only briefly reappeared before running away again.

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