quote:BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A powerful and radical Shiite cleric implored his followers Sunday to stop killing Iraqis and focus their violent efforts on ousting American forces from the war-torn nation.
Muqtada al-Sadr also called on Iraqi forces to join the insurgents in the battle against "the occupiers."
The firebrand cleric's mandate came as a Baghdad security spokesman announced that a ban on civilian vehicular traffic will go into effect Monday, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.
I'm debating whether this will do much. I know that al-Sadr is very influential with a lot of the Shiite millitias in Iraq, but to me it doesn't seem like he can control or stem the sectarian violence. I'm also interested in the possible changes (if any, I'm not too optimistic) that this will make, for better or worse.
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The Mahdi Army has something like 30,000 armed individuals. If Muqtada decided to unleash them, the violence in the streets will be increased dramatically.
Thankfully right now they're all too busy fighting amongst themselves. Recently some of the insurgent groups came under the umbrella of a single entity, and Al-Qaeda refused to join, which has them largely at odds with some of the militias.
I've been saying for months, along with top Democrats like Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton, that one of our top priorities should be to disarm the militias. For the moment, the government needs to control the flow and possession of firearms in Iraq. And to do so, they need to engage the militias. al-Maliki is afraid to do so, considering how much support they give him, and considering al-Sadr has his hands in the pot of half the government departments. But this is one of those things we either need to do without him, or we should leave. If they won't let us, we leave. They have a right to govern their nation as they see fit, for better or for worse, but I absolutely refuse to let US forces get caught up in their squabbles and mimanagements.
It's time to engage these groups. They aren't our friends, they are part of the problem. They are laying low right now, regrouping, edging each other for supremacy, and if the winds are shifting in our direction, we damn well better have our sails unfurled and be ready.
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