The Right Coast

April 13, 2004
John Burns outside of Najaf
By Tom Smith

This is interesting:

The decision of the prominent clerics to intervene was a result of days of secret contacts, and a vindication, American officials said, of months of assiduous American courtesy toward Ayatollah Sistani. The aged cleric has been an increasingly shrill champion of Shiite rights in Iraq, but at the same time a restraining influence through his emphasis on the importance of settling the country's web of ethnic, religious and political rivalries peacefully.

Neither side offered any details of the talks. Nor was it clear what concessions, if any, the delegation might have offered Mr. Sadr as the price of ending his insurrection, or even whether the American occupation authority had indicated a willingness to make a deal with him.

American officials gave mixed signals suggesting they were hoping that tough warnings that they were after Mr. Sadr, coupled with the military threat outside Najaf, might tip the balance in the talks. Since last week, the American occupation authority has said it planned to arrest Mr. Sadr in connection with the murder of a grand ayatollah on April 10, 2003.

The clearest hint came in the remarks by General Sanchez, who in a teleconference call linking the American headquarters in Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon, said, with emphasis, that "the mission of the U.S. forces is to kill or capture Moktada al-Sadr." But at another point, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of central command, said that there would "probably end up being a uniquely Iraqi solution" to the effort to bring Mr. Sadr to justice, and that "we're applying the military force necessary to assist in that regard."

In my amateur opinion, this is exactly what is going on, and shows the US is playing it pretty smart. The key I think will be placating the Shia without alienating everyone else to the point that they rebel.

As usual, this extremely important stuff is buried in the Times. The old joke about the NYT: World to End, see story on C-21.

More: a roundup from CS Monitor. Does Tom Freidman really think it helps to sermonize? He takes himself waaayyyy to seriously.