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Sadr Still Has An Out

1:11 PM, Apr 11, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
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The U.S. military has long worked to divide Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and force Sadr to participate in the political process. This strategy became evident in early 2007, when Sadr ordered his fighters off of the streets at the onset of the Baghdad Security Plan. The U.S. military touted Sadr's efforts, began negotiating with elements of the Mahdi Army (often called the "noble Mahdi Army"), and kicked off a concerted campaign against the more radical elements it described as the "Special Groups" or "secret cells."

U.S. officials and military officers have not gone on the record about this policy. But today, Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, alluded to the real view of the military on Sadr. Mullen said Sadr is "somewhat of an enigma" when it comes to the violence carried out in his name:

"So, I think Sadr clearly is a very important and key player in all this," Mullen added. "Exactly where he's headed and what impact he'll have long term, it's, I think, is out there still to be determined."

The U.S. military continues to offer both the carrot and the stick to Sadr. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it was very unlikely Sadr would be detained if he returned to Iraq, while Mullen has left the door open for Sadr to join the political process. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces strike at the "rogue" elements of Sadr's Mahdi Army while preparing the battlefield to enter the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City and continuing operations in Basra. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is moving to bar Sadr's political party from participating in elections if it does not disband the Mahdi Army militia. Sadr has his out, it is a question of whether he will take it.