- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

The joint raid on Sadr City by Iraqi special forces and the U.S. military Oct. 25 was most welcome news. It was a much-awaited signal to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his renegade Mahdi Army that sectarian violence and death squads will be brought under control by substantial force of arms, not meaningless negotiation.

Although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed he had not been consulted on the raid, I find it unlikely that he had not been informed, particularly since Iraqi special forces were involved.

Under the current rules of engagement (ROEs), all offensive operations in Iraq must now be coordinated with the Iraqi government. Incredibly, the information flow includes the notoriously corrupt Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, whose forces have been thoroughly penetrated by death squads, militias and common criminals.

Yet while these ground rules create obvious drawbacks, they also provide an excellent vehicle for perception management and deception operations, two key elements in achieving palpable success over a counterinsurgency. Deception ops also provide the prime minister with plausible deniability on any given operation.

One apparent oddity of the Oct. 25 raid was the lack of sermons of protest from the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, often referred to as Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. The less-informed will rush to embrace this restrained response and endorse Ayatollah al-Sistani as a reformer.

That would be a mistake. Ayatollah al-Sistani’s venomous sermons make it very clear he equates “unbelievers” with excrement. He likes us no more or less than Sheik al-Sadr. His reason for silence after Oct. 25 was political. It is well-known that Ayatollah al-Sistani would be not be disturbed in the least if his radical Shia rival Sheik al-Sadr were reined in or removed from the scene completely.

From both the political and tactical viewpoints, having a combined Iraqi-U.S. force control all entry and exit points into Sadr City was a major step. It is unfortunate that the checkpoints were largely removed after a few days. The cordoning of Sadr City would provide a number of opportunities, including going after the renegade Sheik al-Sadr while still trying to capture or kill Abu Deraa, the most notorious Shia death squad leader.

There’s also the Mahdi Army, which is already fragmenting into gangs and engaging in criminal activity and terror operations. Terminating the Mahdi Army as a viable force will deal a severe blow to the Iranian objective of solidifying Tehran’s position in Iraq, as well as deny Iran any control over Iraq’s southern oil fields. Defeating the Mahdi Army and eliminating the death squads is also critical, not only to achieving our objectives in Iraq, but also for positioning the U.S. to be able to deal with Iran from a position of strength.

Additionally, these moves will force Prime Minister al-Maliki to choose between a free and democratic Iraq or the renegade Sheik al-Sadr, who provides a majority of his political support. He can’t have it both ways, which is the situation right now.

Finally, it may not be politically correct to say this, but from both a strategic and tactical viewpoint, there is a strong case to deploy another 20,000 to 50,000 combat troops into Iraq.

Such a move would send two strong signals. First, it would provide Gen. George Casey, our commander in Iraq, with the flexibility necessary to conduct simultaneous military operations, thereby expanding Iraqi government control over key areas. Second, the additional troops would strengthen the U.S.’s strategic options vis-a-vis an intransigent Iran. Iran remains the key threat to regional stability. We need to see things in both the short- and long-term perspective if we are to prevail.

James A. Lyons Jr. is a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy and a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal advisor on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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