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April 21, 2008
Rice Pokes al-Sadr with a Pointy Stick
File this one under "Gaffes - Secretary of State:"
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers.This was totally a gratuitous insult and not necessary by any measure of statecraft or national interest. It's one thing for bloggers and pundits to call al-Sadr a cowardly wretch for staying in Iran while his militiamen fight and die in his name. But it's quite another when the Secretary of State says the same thing.
Rice, in the Iraqi capital to tout security gains and what she calls an emerging political consensus, said al-Sadr is content to issue threats and edicts from the safety of Iran, where he is studying.
Al-Sadr heads an unruly militia that was the main target of an Iraqi government assault in the oil-rich city of Basra last month, and his future role as a spoiler is an open question.
"I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go to their deaths and he's in Iran."
A full-blown uprising by al-Sadr, who led two rebellions against U.S.-led forces in 2004, could lead to a dramatic increase in violence in Iraq at a time when the Sunni extremist group Al Qaeda in Iraq appears poised for new attacks after suffering severe blows last year
I know what Rice was trying to accomplish: drive a wedge between al-Sadr and his fighters. But it was clumsy, stupid, and not her job in the first place. Challenging the manhood of an Arab who has a lot of people with guns who could make enormous trouble for the US military in Iraq bespeaks an insensitivity to the culture and an ignorance of the personality of al-Sadr. And to make the statement as the Mahdi leader is deciding whether to go to war against the US military is beyond belief -- unless Rice wants an full blown Mahdi uprising whch would kill a lot of Americans and Iraqis.
We can't kill them all. And all Rice did with her undiplomatic remarks is make it more likely that violence will continue to flare in Iraq.