Sir Moqtada bravely ran away

For the most part, I’ve tried to avoid discussing the day-to-day, finer points of the war in Iraq. My reasons are simple: for one, I don’t feel even remotely qualified to discuss the minutiae of the struggle. For another, the situation is so fluid that making predictions on single events is risky at best. For yet another, this — as Bush said from the outset — is a very long-term project, and it will most likely be years before we can gain a proper perspective on the outcome.

Rather, I’ve focused on the big picture, the arguments about whether or not the fighting is still in our national interests — and there I remain still convinced it is.

But now a development has occurred that has me wanting to break my self-imposed rules, because I think that this event — if it should hold up — is a major event.

Radical cleric Moqtada Al Sadr has apparently fled Iraq for Iran, along with key elements of his leadership. This is apparently in response to the United States’ “surge” in Iraq, along with the Iraqi government’s beginning (finally) to crack down on those who have been helping the insurgents.

I’m no Middle East scholar, but it seems to me that terrorist leaders have fallen into two classifications: “warriors” and “sages.” Image is all-important; you either have to be seen as the mighty fighter who inspires others to follow your example, or the wise scholar who inspires others to follow your words.

The problem is that Al Sadr is too young to fulfill the “sage” model, so he’s stuck trying to be the “warrior.” So he’s talked a tough game, arranged for some rather nasty physical attacks against his enemies, and in general played up the physical versus the intellectual/spiritual leadership role.

Well, it looks like his mouth’s written a couple checks his ass can’t cash, and he’s decided to skip on martyrdom.

If we’re very, very lucky, this will put a huge hurting on the Mahdi Army. they are deprived of much of their key leadership, as the erstwhile heads now spout “we must fight them to the death!” from the safe (for now) side of the border. “You be a martyr, we’re too important” is lousy inspirational rhetoric. More than a few of his followers have to be asking themselves “why the hell should I put my life on the line when he and his crowd cut and ran?”

No, I don’t think it will kill off the Mahdi Army, nor does it signify a major blow to the insurgency. But it’s a damned good sign — both for our overall success, and Bush’s “surge” plan.

If, of course, the story holds true.

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