Sadr rebuffs Iraq government envoy as offensive sputters
BAGHDAD - After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al Sadr, Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the firebrand cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.Of course shortly after this al-Sadr offered his conditions for a cease fire which had to be very unpalatable to al-Malaki but which he accepted. So what does this tell us? It tells us who is calling the shots in Iraq and it's not the Bush administration or General Petraeus - it's the Mullahs in Tehran. It was Tehran who told al-Sadr to make the offer and Tehran who told al-Malaki to accept. The US may have 150,000 troops on the ground but it's Tehran that is running the show. The war is over and the winner is Iran.
Maliki denounced Shia militants in Basra as the equivalent of Al Qaida, and Sadr told his supporters not to hand over their arms to a puppet state of the United States.
The diplomatic initiative and the harsh rebuff further eroded expectations for a successful outcome to the offensive, which Maliki is personally directing from the presidential palace in the southern port city. It was not the only sign of problems.
Maliki issued orders Friday to enlist volunteers for the battle against the Shiite militias, and his Dawa party sought to enlist fighters. The U.S. military raised its profile in Basra still further, providing protection for installations including the palace where Maliki is housed, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.
There were more U.S. air strikes in the Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City, and local officials said U.S. forces joined Iraqi security forces in clashes against Sadrists lasting hours south of Hilla, which lies south of Baghdad. Meanwhile, Sadr's Mahdi Army militia went door to door in Sadr City with a list of those employed by government security services, demanding that they not report to their jobs, local residents said.
The circumstances in which the negotiations with Sadr took place suggested the government is no longer able to dictate the terms of an agreement with Sadr but now must seek a deal. General Hussein al Assadi, a Baghdad-based commander, traveled to Najaf to call on the head of Sadr's political bureau there, Lewaa Smaisam. From his office, the two men telephoned Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, where he is studying religion. But they could not reach agreement, an official close to the negotiations said. He would not give his name due to the sensitivity of the subject.