Juan Cole characterises it perfectly: “Rice has her ‘bring ’em on moment’ in Iraq, talking trash to the Mahdi Army and calling Muqtada al-Sadr a ‘coward.’ Muqtada al-Sadr eluded Saddam Hussein for 4 years after Saddam killed his father and two elder brothers; and in 2004 he twice took on the US military. He may be a lot of things, but he is not a coward. Has Rice ever said anything about Iraq that was true or useful? Even as she was talking up ‘improved security’ in Baghdad, mortar shells were falling about her in the Green Zone.”
BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Sunday called Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr a coward who’s hiding in Iran and praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for his recent offensive against Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern port city of Basra.
The March 25 government offensive sparked an uprising by Sadr’s militia, and on Saturday, one day before Rice arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit, Sadr threatened an all-out war against the Iraqi government.
The Sadrists have angrily accused Maliki’s U.S.-backed government of trying to undercut their movement prior to provincial elections in October, when they will likely win many of the Shiite southern provinces from their Shiite rivals in Maliki’s government. If Sadr’s militia, conservatively estimated at some 60,000 men, were to rise up, it could mean the end of the drop in violence in Iraq and an inter-sectarian war that could make it more difficult for the U.S. to withdraw any further troops from Iraq.
Thousands of government soldiers already have deserted in Basra and in Baghdad’s Sadr City, refusing to fight the Shiite militia. Some deserted because of threats to their families, others from a moral objection by the mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces to fight their Shiite brothers.
Read all of it here. / McClatchy / The Rag Blog