The US Army tried to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr, the widely revered Shia cleric, after luring him to peace negotiations at a house in the holy city of Najaf, which it then attacked, according to a senior Iraqi government official.
The revelation of this extraordinary plot, which would probably have provoked an uprising by outraged Shia if it had succeeded, has left a legacy of bitter distrust in the mind of Mr Sadr for which the US and its allies in Iraq may still be paying. "I believe that particular incident made Muqtada lose any confidence or trust in the [US-led] coalition and made him really wild," the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr Mowaffaq Rubai'e told The Independent in an interview. It is not known who gave the orders for the attempt on Mr Sadr but it is one of a series of ill-considered and politically explosive US actions in Iraq since the invasion.
The attempted assassination or abduction took place two-and-a-half years ago in August 2004 when Mr Sadr and his Mehdi Army militiamen were besieged by US Marines in Najaf, south of Baghdad.
Dr Rubai'e believes that his mediation efforts - about which he had given the US embassy, the American military command and the Iraqi government in Baghdad full details - were used as an elaborate set-up to entice the Shia leader to a place where he could be trapped.
I think this goes without saying: "The US authorities appeared to have little understanding of the reverence with which the Sadr family was regarded by many Iraqi Shia." Bushco doesn't seem to understand any of political complexities involved in Iraq. No wonder they have no idea how to use political means to help end this conflict. If they'd made al-Sadr a martyr for his cause, not only would they have killed any hope for reconciliation, they would have put their own troops in even more jeopardy as targets for retaliation. But, as we've seen with the failure of this so-called "surge", the troops are just disposable pawns for a US government that thinks it can ride this all out until something happens while trying to pin the blame for the major woes in Iraq on Iran.
Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reported this weekend:
NAJAF, Iraq -- The movement of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has embarked on one of its most dramatic tactical shifts since the beginning of the war.
The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. Sadr's political followers are distancing themselves from the fragile Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is widely criticized as corrupt, inefficient and biased in favor of Iraq's majority Shiites. And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr's movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr's image and position him in the middle of Iraq's ideological spectrum.
"We want to aim the guns against the occupation and al-Qaeda, not between Iraqis," Ahmed Shaibani, 37, a cleric who leads Sadr's newly formed reconciliation committee, said as he sat inside Sadr's heavily guarded compound here.
Sadr controls the second-biggest armed force in Iraq, after the U.S. military, and 30 parliamentary seats -- enough power to influence political decision-making and dash U.S. hopes for stability. The cleric withdrew his six ministers from Iraq's cabinet last month, leaving the movement more free to challenge the government.
"Our retreating from the government is one way to show we are trying to work for the welfare of Iraq and not only for the welfare of Shiites," said Salah al-Obaidi, a senior aide to Sadr. He said the time was "not mature yet" to form a bloc that could challenge Maliki, who came to power largely because of Sadr's support.
If al-Sadr is able to pull off such a huge coalition, that could be a formidable challenge to a failed al-Maliki and the occupation.
Sadr senses an opportunity in recent moves by Sunni insurgent groups to break away from militants influenced by al-Qaeda, and in the threats by the largest Sunni political bloc to leave the government, which opens the possibility for a new cross-sectarian political alliance, his aides said.
If the sectarian war can be stopped, if the Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups can join hands and break al-Qaeda in Iraq, there will be less reason for U.S. forces to stay, said Shaibani, wearing a black dishdasha, a traditional loose-fitting tunic, and clutching a Nokia cellphone during an interview in late April. "The American argument is we can't have a timetable because of al-Qaeda," he said. "So we're going to weaken al-Qaeda for you."
To gain control of Sadr city, where the Washington Post reports that the US military still hasn't deployed enough troops (however many "enough" is supposed to be), the rhetoric is chilling:
If political avenues are exhausted, the U.S. military has formulated other options, including plans for a wholesale clearing operation in Sadr City that would require a much larger force, but commanders stress that this is a last resort.
Sounds suspiciously like ethnic cleansing to me.
Col. Hamoud, a police liaison who has lived in Sadr City for 19 years and spoke on condition his full name not be used, said residents welcome aid from the United States brought peacefully, but warned that if U.S. troops use force, they will meet opposition.
"If they put their boots on people's heads," he said, referring to a highly insulting gesture in Iraqi culture, "there will be fighting."