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Sadr to Extend Cease-Fire

1:33 PM, Feb 21, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
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On February 7, I noted that Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, was likely to extend the cease-fire rather than be blamed for rolling back the security progress and exposing his militia to the full weight of Iraqi and U.S. forces. Today, Reuters reported Sadr will extend the six-month ceasefire by another six months. The cease-fire, which was due to expire on February 23, is widely credited with helping to reduce the violence in Iraq. Sadr imposed the cease-fire after the Mahdi Army clashed with Iraqi security forces in Najaf in August 2007

Sadr's decision was strongly influenced by U.S. and Iraqi pressure from both the military and political spheres. As noted in the beginning of February, U.S. forces began to step up operations against the Sadr-linked and Iranian-backed Mahdi Army to pressure Sadr to extend the ceasefire. U.S. forces raided Sadr City several days later, and then proceeded, along with Iraqi troops, to relentlessly target Special Groups cells in central and southern Iraq. Multinational Forces Iraq even blamed the Special Groups for a blast in Sadr City and rocket attacks throughout Baghdad.

The standard press reporting has focused in on how Sadr's negation of the truce would affect Iraqi security and U.S. politics. While there certainly is plenty of truth to this perspective, Sadr would also incur significant costs for a decision to end the cease-fire. The Iraqi security forces today are not the same as they were in 2007--they are far better equipped to deal with Sadr, and have been deployed to do so. The U.S. military still has its "surge" brigades in theater for several months. The government can declare Sadr's political movement and the Mahdi Army illegal for taking up arms against the government. And the Shia, who have increasingly grown tired of the corrupt and criminal behavior of the Mahdi Army, may further pull back its support from Sadr.

For more background on Sadr's decision to extend the cease-fire, head to the Long War Journal.