The heat against Muqtada al-Sadr has obviously been turned up in the US media within the past few weeks. Al Sadr's militia is unfailingly labeled as "extremist," as opposed to the presumably more "centrist" Badr Brigades, even though the latter has reportedly been more heavily involved in the sectarian violence against Sunnis than the Sadrists have. The more cynical among us may take this as a sign that the US has reason to believe that al-Sadr is going to stand in the way of the proposed new Iraqi hydrocarbons law. Al Sadr recently met with Ayatollah Sistani and it is a safe bet that the proposed law figured prominently in the discussion.
Several weeks ago, the United States reportedly tried to arrange to have SCIRI and other compliant political parties leave the United Iraqi Shi'ite list in order to form a new coalition with Sunni elements in the Iraqi parliament. Sistani reportedly used his influence to prevent this from happening. At the same time, however, the Sadrists were exploring a coalition of their own with Sunni parties that share the Sadrist’s nationalist goals of having foreign military forces leave Iraq and for a strong central Iraqi government that has complete control over future oil revenues. Reporter Pepe Escobar, writing in Asia Times, explains the significance of this:
The crucial development in the next few weeks is Muqtada's fine-tuning of a stunning Shi'ite counterpunch to demolish once and for all the US-created pro-sectarian strategy: a nationalist, pan-Islamist, anti-occupation coalition of the Sadrists and the neo-Ba'athists,plus any other religious or secular anti-occupation group. Transcending the Sunni/Shi'ite divide, this would preempt any threat of all-out civil war - not to mention decide the fierce Shi'ite family feud between Hakim and Muqtada in the Sadrists' favor. No wonder US Senator John McCain wants to "take out" Muqtada as much as the Pentagon does.
A recent interview with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on PBS NewsHour seemed to confirm that the United States is preparing to escalate hostilities against the Mehdi Army if the Sadrists stand in the way of the passage of the proposed hydrocarbon law:
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you've been speaking with some of those leaders. They've come to Washington in the last couple of weeks. After those discussions, how feasible does this idea of a new moderate coalition within the Iraqi government sound to you, that is one that splits off the more radical Shiites, the ones allied with Sadr, and the more moderate Shiites go in with the Sunnis, some Sunnis and Kurds? Is that feasible?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, the definition is: Are these people who are now willing to have a plan for national reconciliation -- which means hydrocarbons law, for instance, the sharing of resources -- and are they willing to stand by the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi prime minister when he goes after the people who are...
There has been a virtual media blackout in the American press when it comes to the proposed hydrocarbon law and the significance of its introduction within the Iraqi parliament, which is reportedly scheduled within the next few days.
"Victory in Iraq" is a phrase that is being used constantly with little attempt to explain what form such a victory may take. However, passage of the hydrocarbons law, which would essentially obligate Iraq to hand over control of its oil resources to Big Oil for the next 30 years would likely constitute such a victory in the eyes of the US political and industry leaders who pushed for the Iraq invasion in the first place.