Moqtada al-Sadr is one of Iraq's most popular and powerful political leaders yet he is also its most dangerous.
Few predicted his rise but with a 60, 000 strong militia backing him and an effective veto power in the Iraqi parliament he is emerging as Iraq's new powerbroker.
The Americans would like him off the scene and many moderate Iraqi's would prefer him dead. Yet as Iraq sinks further into a blood-hungry sectarian war this man stands to gain most.
INSIGHT takes you inside Iraq. We will be speaking with an Army Colonel, an Iraqi politician and those who've felt the impact of Moqtada's forces.
Find out how he operates, what kind of Iraq he is shaping and how likely he is to win the brutal political battle for final control in Iraq.
Moqtada al-Sadr is one of Iraq's most popular and powerful political leaders yet he is also its most dangerous. Few predicted his rise but with a 60, 000 strong militia backing him and an effective veto power in the Iraqi parliament he is emerging as Iraq's new powerbroker.
The Americans would like him off the scene and many moderate Iraqi's would prefer him dead. Yet as Iraq sinks further into a blood-hungry sectarian war this man stands to gain most.
Insight takes you inside Iraq. We will be speaking with an Army Colonel, an Iraqi politician and those who've felt the impact of Moqtada's forces.
Find out how he operates, what kind of Iraq he is shaping and how likely he is to win the brutal political battle for final control in Iraq.
If the US isn't winning the war in Iraq, then who is? Much of the bloody violence in Iraq has so far been blamed on Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda. But Iraq's own government has enemies within. Moqtada al-Sadr is one of Iraq's most popular and powerful Shi'ite leaders. Despite not sitting in the new parliament, he controls a number of important Iraqi ministries. He also runs his own brutal army, responsible for torture and death squads within Iraq. So will President Bush's controversial surge plan curb the power of Moqtada al-Sadr? And what do we know of the mysterious Shi'ite leader?
REPORTER: Lisa Main:
Moqtada al-Sadr is one of Iraq's most popular leaders, yet he's perhaps its most dangerous.
YAHIA SAID, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: The Mehdi Army over the last year, they have been implicated in brutal sectarian violence and death squad activities. A lot of it traces back to Sadr Citywhere people who have been kidnapped are brought where they have been executed and then dumped on the outskirts of that neighbourhood.
As Saddam Hussein's life came to an end, it was Moqtada who was celebrated – an indication of how close he is to power in the new Iraq.
YAHIA SAID: His movement spans the spectrum from a social grouping and social grievances to political issues to military issues. Sadr views himself probably as the spiritual leader of it all, providing spiritual guidance, not necessarily involved in day-to-day political planning or military planning.
For a man who presides over such power today, Moqtada was considered by many an unlikely leader.
YAHIA SAID: Definitely. He is not even properly a cleric, if you like. He has not completed, or he does not have an advanced clerical degree. He may not have been formally educated in a proper way, but he has shown political skill over the last four years that has surpassed most of his opponents. He has built a broad grassroots movement and he commands the streets. His power base is the majority of the Shia population in Iraq, Shia of Arab origin living in the countryside or in the slums of Iraqi cities, particularly in Baghdad – the poorest of the poor, the lower classes in Iraq.
Roughly 2 million Iraqis live inside Sadr City. It's a Moqtada stronghold, yet it's also considered an enclave where militias run free. Few outsiders dare to enter.
YAHIA SAID: Very little is known because of the secretive nature of the Sadrist movement and because of the perceived danger of moving into Sadr City, especially by foreigners and reporters. You get conflicting reports – on one hand some say that since Mehdi Army control over Sadr City things have improved, security has improved, they have cracked down on petty criminality, they have provided some sense of protection. Others say that the Mehdi militia have been engaged themselves in criminal activity and looting, intimidations of secular people, of women, against people who sell alcohol, against students involved in partying or in picnics, or just socialising across gender lines. He definitely is trying to present Sadr City as a model of his ability to rule and provide for parallel structures of governance.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, welcome, everyone, tonight and we're going to hear tonight from some people on the ground in the Middle East about just what is happening in Iraq and how it's likely to play out in the coming months. I'd like to start with you, Lara Logan. You're living in Baghdad and you've been following Moqtada al-Sadr for years now. How powerful is he on the streets there?
LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question that, amongst Iraq's political leaders, Moqtada al-Sadr is definitely the power on the streets. Organisations like the Badr Corps Militia of SCIRI – the party that has the largest political bloc in parliament – they technically hold the most power officially, but it's really the power of the street that makes Moqtada more powerful than his representation in government even.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how has he got to that position where he is that powerful? You mention SCIRI – SCIRI is the other Shi'ite bloc – how is it that he has that power on the street?
LARA LOGAN: Well, a lot of people here say his power is thanks to the US, because it was really after the battle of Najaf, back in 2004, when Moqtada's forces went up against the US, that he really was elevated to popular status. He's modelled himself as the main Shi'ite leader that has opposed the occupation of the US and that has him aligned in the past with Sunni resistance fighters. He's turned away from that – for a long time he became part of the government, and now we see signs that he's going back in that direction, reigniting those alliances with Sunnis, reopening Sunni mosques in Sadr City, and on the edges of Sadr City and in other neighbourhoods, so it's really after facing down the US twice and then negotiating a cease-fire, he's emerged more powerful, more popular than ever, every time, and that's exactly what he's doing right now under the latest new security plan of the US forces, which has US soldiers in Sadr City for the first time.
JENNY BROCKIE: How does the violence of his Mehdi Army compare to the violence we're seeing from the Sunni insurgents and from al-Qaeda influences there? I mean, how would you describe how violent his army is?
LARA LOGAN: Well, this is a very interesting question. There is no doubt that the violence we've seen on both sides – extremists on the Shia and Sunni side – have matched each other in terms of complete brutality and ruthless, merciless type of violence. The mark of Sadr's Mehdi Army is said to be drills – they like to torture their victims using pneumatic drills. But what's interesting is that it's normally done in a very sort of systematic way, connected to religion. They hold these religious courts very often before they sentence people and then carry out the sentence, torturing them to death. And that gives a kind of – in their own eyes – a kind of legitimacy to the process. They of course on the Shia side say they are defending themselves after years of bombings and violence against them by the Sunni extremists and insurgents and terrorists like al-Qaeda, that their violence was a way of defending their own people.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mussab al-Jarrah in Amman, you fled Iraq just weeks ago after your father was killed by Shia militia. Tell us what happened.
MUSSAB AL-JARRAH: Well, my father was a prominent Iraqi sportsman, he was a member of the Iraqi Football Association and head of one of the biggest football clubs – al-Talaba Football Club. One day I was in my work, in my CBS office in Baghdad, when my mother called me and told me that, “Your father left a few hours ago and his mobile phone is locked.” Now, my father has sold his car a few months ago because he thought it was safer moving by taxis. So my mother called and said that. “Your father has left and he's not home yet.” I had a hunch, I had a feeling and it was haunting me that this was something that could happen, we knew he was kidnapped and he was taken. We kept on doing this for a few days and in these days we had to go and contact some of the very dangerous criminals in Sadr City and the Mehdi Army and try to convince what was happening and maybe try to find a way to save my father. Now, after three days of the search, one of my uncles had a hunch that something wrong could have happened, so he sent one of my cousins to the morgue, to the Iraqi morgue. And while we were still there, you know, searching – my cousin called and said, “They should stop the search and come because I have found the body here, in the morgue.”
JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you think targeted your father, and why do you think they targeted him?
MUSSAB AL-JARRAH: Well, I believe who targeted my father was members who worked for the Mehdi Army faction.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is Moqtada al-Sadr's Medhi Army?
MUSSAB AL-JARRAH: Yes, they were.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's a very grim picture. Paul Hughes, you're a retired US colonel who served in Iraq until 2004. You were there when Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with US forces. What is Moqtada al-Sadr like as an enemy?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.) IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Well, he's very capable. You can't deny that his forces don't have some capability to them. His strength lies in the number of young men that he can mobilize at a moments notice, for his needs, around the country.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did he manage to regain so much power and to end up with this big army – up to 60,000 people?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Well, you have to look at his family history. He plays on the name of his father, who was a famous grand ayatollah, and that's how he has developed the allegiance. He doesn't have absolute control over all of his cells. He basically provides them financing. Now where he gets his money from is another issue altogether, but principally it's because of his reputation as being the son of a very famous grand ayatollah, and the fact that he has organised a franchise capability here where he supports local cells with funds, and in return they give him allegiance.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joost Hiltermann in Amman, your group, the International Crisis Group, has taken a close look at the rise of Moqtada al-Sadr. This is a man who doesn't even sit in the parliament. What sort of power do you think he has in the new Iraq? What sort of real power does he have there?
JOOST HILTERMANN, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Well, he's one of the key players, whether we like him or not, or whether we like it or not. He has a mass movement that he can count upon to fight for him if the situation requires it, and he's got members in the government and in the parliament, and he's the only representative of a mass movement in Iraq. No other party can claim to have popular support, except for maybe the Kurdish leaders, and so he has a real future in Iraq and he is both the man who is destabilising Iraq, and therefore also, ironically, or paradoxically, has the key to its stability.
JENNY BROCKIE: So he is the key to stability, or one of the keys to stability, to any kind of solution in Iraq?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Yes, unfortunately maybe, because of the thuggish nature of his supporters, who have killed many, many people. Despite that, he is the only one who can command the street – the street at the moment is in charge, in the absence of any kind of strong central authority, which has been removed of course by the US when it came into the country in 2003, and which has not been replaced since then. All we have now is a very weak government, and in fact a government that is in many ways beholden to Sadrist movement, who helped Mr Nouri Maliki gain the seat of Prime Minister.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dr Allaa Makki, you're a Sunni MP and a member of the minority Islamic party. You blame Moqtada's army for a lot of the violence. How much power do his forces have in the ministries, for example, like the Health Ministry?
ALAA MAKKI, IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY: Well, really they are mainly concentrating in the FBS forces
JENNY BROCKIE: What are the FBS forces?
ALAA MAKKI: They constitute thousands of people.
JENNY BROCKIE: What are the FBS forces?
ALAA MAKKI: Well, they are the police, the police force which is denoted for the Minister of Health and for specific ministry of so and so, but mainly they are concentrated there in the Minister of Health.
JENNY BROCKIE: But the Sunni insurgency is continuing its violent attacks in Baghdad too. Shouldn't you be doing more to rein in the insurgency, as Sunnis?
ALAA MAKKI: Yes, yes. We have first of all, we have to differentiate between the terrorist al-Qaeda people and the Sunni National Resistance, what we call. Those people, the resistance are now negotiating and they are now changing their minds to direct their efforts against the real Iraqi enemies, that's from the east. And, you know, for a while they should calm the situation with the American forces, and that's going on and active negotiations are going that way. But other terrorists really are now very active and are supported – mainly we have evidence they are supported from Iran and still bombing here and there and pushing cars and all these sorts of things.
JENNY BROCKIE Lara, I suppose the average person, in trying to make sense of Iraq, is trying to work out just what the key is to some kind of stability or solution there. Now, Moqtada is clearly a major force in Iraq. How central is the army in the new Iraq, and how central are the links into the government, how extensive are they?
LARA LOGAN: Well, the army and the security forces are into everything, because the one thing that you hear over and over again from Iraqis, and that's what you heard Adnan talking about earlier, is the sense of chaos here, the lack of law and order, and as terrible and difficult as life might have been for people under Saddam Hussein, you always knew where your enemy was. And now, the Iraqi security forces, the police, the national police – which is a kind of commando force – and the army itself are implicated in the violence here, implicated in the death squads, implicated in the militias. In certain parts of Baghdad and around Iraq, the militias and the Iraqi security forces are seen as inseparable. And this is one of the critical problems for the US – the whole basis of their counter-insurgency effort, the basis of the Baghdad security plan is handing over control to the Iraqi security forces, empowering them to take control of their country and to be responsible for bringing safety and security to the people. How do you do that when, in much of Iraq, people see the security forces as being one branch of the civil war, one arm of those fighting the civil war? And right now, very, very little is being done about this because the Americans don't want to be seen to be partnered with a security force that is not that is corrupt and that is not doing its job, not protecting the people, but part of the problem, and of course the Iraqi Government has no interest in exposing this kind of action. So the people on both sides – both Shia and Sunni people – are caught between the security forces, American interests and the interests of extremists on both sides, because al-Qaeda is the one element in this that isn't really discussed. But no matter what the Iraqi forces are able to achieve, no matter how trust and confidence can be rebuilt and restored in these forces over time, al-Qaeda has no intention of allowing any kind of political solution to this country that in any way accommodates the US. And so whatever you see happening on the ground with the security forces is undermined constantly by the terrorist threat from al-Qaeda. And one thing – this is where the big departure is between the Iraqi people and the US military in Iraq, is that the US sees the Iraqi security forces as part of the solution – they partner with them, they go out there with them, they align themselves with them, they assist them – sometimes they don't even know who they are assisting Iraqi security forces in fighting, as happened in Najaf recently, and, for the people, that then aligns the US with their enemy, although we have seen a turn recently where Sunni people who didn't want the US in this country as an occupying force are turning to the US for protection against the Iraqi military, and that really doesn't say a lot about the Iraqi security forces.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Hughes, why hasn't the US been able to keep more of a lid on all of this?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Well, the US is confronted with a really bad situation because the strategy that was employed in 2003 was absolutely flawed. We didn't have enough troops on the ground back in 2003 to do the jobs that were necessary for ensuring the stability of Iraq. For example, Donald Rumsfeld cut off the movement of the 1st Cavalry Division to Iraq in 2003 because he felt that it wasn't necessary. The anticipated result of the invasion was that the Iraqis would assume control of their country and stabilise it themselves. But in fact that did not happen, for a variety of reasons, principally because the police force melted away. There was some discussion about the Iraqi army having self disbanded itself, demobilised itself, which was patently false to anybody here on the ground, yet Washington didn't understand that. Consequently, the American forces here were lulled into an era of quiet solitude over 2003 here inside the Green Zone then, now the International Zone, and they didn't let themselves get out and meet with the Iraqis and really understand what was going on, on the ground, and in August of 2003 when the insurgency exploded, that was it. By that time, the initiative had passed to the insurgents, and it's a very difficult thing to regain if you don't want to put resources into it. That's what makes this so-called surge an important operation, because there are more troops coming to Baghdad. But, quite frankly, I don't think there are enough troops coming to Baghdad. For a city the size of Los Angeles and San Francisco put together, you need between 120,000 and 130,000 reliable soldiers or policemen here on the ground, and we're nowhere near that number.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lara Logan, who is Moqtada most afraid of?
LARA LOGAN: Well, that's a very interesting question. I would say it's not the US, as many people overseas seem to believe. It's much more likely to be members within the Shi'ite community inside Iraq, possibly Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, and other members maybe of his own militia. Moqtada is very worried about his own safety. He moves around all the time, people rarely know where he is. He has stopped making public appearances over the last few weeks, but most of the time he spends in the south of the country, in Najaf, and also visiting some of his family in Tehran, but there is no question that the most immediate threat that he faces comes from within his own community inside Iraq.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joost Hiltermann, Shi'ites form the majority in Iraq, but they themselves are split, as we have just heard. On the one hand there is the brute force of Moqtada, which rules on the streets, and on the other, the more strategic group SCIRI, which is backed strongly by Iran. Who do you think is more likely to win out in that tussle between those two major powers in Iraq?
JOOST HILTERMANN: If there is going to be a direct fight between Badr Corps and the Mehdi Army, I would suspect that in some areas of the country the Badr Corps would prevail and in others, the Mehdi Army. I think in Baghdad, the capital, the Mehdi Army would prevail, given the huge number of supporters Moqtada al-Sadr enjoys thereWHEREas in the holy cities like Najaf and Karbala, the Supreme Council might well prevail, even though there it would be a very tough battle.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lara, do the Sunnis have any bargaining power in all this?
LARA LOGAN: Yes, they absolutely have bargaining power. I mean, the Sunni resistance has proved that they are a formidable force. They have grown stronger over the years, not weaker. Some of them have been forced into an alliance with al-Qaeda in Iraq, others are turning away from al-Qaeda in Iraq, but the Sunnis are in a very difficult position because they are essentially outnumbered and many people here think that at the end of the day that's going to be the deciding factor.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dr Alaa Makki, is that why the Sunni insurgency is so strong, that you simply don't have the numbers to have any real political power?
ALAA MAKKI: Well, first of all, Sunni is not a minority in the Iraqi people, and that was a big lie, and it came with the invasion really and with the marginalisation of Sunni people in the Iraqi field, and with the supporting of other groups at the expense of Sunni, as regarding Sunnis with Ba'athists, and that is not true. Sunnis are independent and they are not a minority and the election proved that the situation on the ground is not that real and we objected even of the chaos and all this rubbish in the elections which were pressing the Sunni to appear as a minority, really this is an important and vital issue in the political current situation.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joost Hiltermann, are the Sunnis a minority in Iraq?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, we have to be clear what we mean by Sunnis, because the Kurds, of course, are also Sunnis. If we're talking about the Sunni Arabs, then they are definitely a minority in Iraq, and I think the 2005 referendum on the constitution proved it because, at that point, the Sunni Arabs had decided to participate and they managed not even to get a two-thirds majority and three governorates, that would have been sufficient to defeat the constitution. They failed in that effort.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Hughes, your Iraq Study Group has recommended a political solution to all of this. How likely do you think that is, given the mess that Iraq is in at the moment?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): As you know, the report's political dimensions were not well accepted in Washington, DC, so that's one strike against it. However, the dynamics of politics in Washington, DC, are pushing the administration more towards the recommendations of the study group. The study group has recommended a new political initiative that would begin with engaging the other members of the region and that in fact will occur this Saturday. Internally, to the politics of the US, it's a bit more difficult to gauge how that's going to turn out because it's become a hot-button issue for the 2008 elections.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, we are seeing some very early signs of diplomatic moves in Iraq, and we have a few questions here. Yes.
ADNAN AL-GHAZAL: When the Government of al-Maliki was formed, it has been formed in order to serve the purpose of what's so-called national unity, but what we see in reality, it's absolutely different, especially when it's come from the Sunni representative. They don't want to go beyond that little frame of being a representative of the Sunni, they are not really intending to play that genuine role as a contributor.
JENNY BROCKIE: But isn't that true of everybody? Isn't that true of everybody in Iraq at the moment, that people are all operating within their zone of influence, and that's part of the problem.
ADNAN AL-GHAZAL: But it's been very extreme especially from I mean, I'm not saying that just from being a Shi'ite. I see that to a specific degree from the Government of al-Maliki specifically. But when it comes from a Vice-President like Dr al-Hashimi, who is the Vice-President of the whole Iraqi nation, when it comes to a minor issue, he acted only as a Sunni, specifically as a Sunni, not really a Vice-President of Iraq. And what we have seen just a few days ago about the alleged rape of one single female – with respect, this is a very important factor – but he had the opportunity to combat that issue by acting as a professional person. But what we have seen on the ground, he made his own version, he made his own assumption, in the media he intensified the situation and 18 persons have been executed for no reason.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, gentleman here. Very quickly, yes.
MAN: Yeah, Jenny, thanks. The measure of how good each democracy is by how well the minorities are treated. Dr Al Maliki said that the Sunnis aren't a minority, so who are the minorities? The Christians represent only 3% of the population, yet they represent 33% of the refugees – Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriacs. The crimes we saw today on the video are hurting the Christian population of Iraq. No-one here has mentioned the Christians, and we want to raise awareness – people there, you, everybody here in the forum, that the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs need their rights as a minority.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, we're going to have a look at what's behind the US surge strategy in Iraq and whether the extra 21,000 US troops can bring stability to that country. We are talking about Iraq, in particular the power of one man, Shia faction leader Moqtada al-Sadr and his brutal militia, the Mehdi Army. Lara Logan, the US surge strategy is now under way. Is anything changing on the streets in Baghdad?
LARA LOGAN: Well, what has happened is that there have been a reduced number of execution-style killings. Nobody here believes that's a permanent change, because the causes of that, the reasons that led to that kind of action still exists, but we have seen is, with more US troops on the streets here, more restriction in the movement of people around Baghdad, the militias have melted away, many have left. In fact, Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers – I spoke to one Mehdi Army fighter, who said their orders were that, “If you think the US is coming after you, then get out of town, and otherwise just lay low, stay in your house, hide your weapons.” It's a strategy that's been used by Sunni insurgents repeatedly and successfully in the past here, and the same is being used by the militias. There's a lot of money in the Baghdad security plan and people shouldn't forget about that part of it. So it's in Moqtada al-Sadr's interests for many reasons, money being one of them, to be seen to be cooperating with this plan to start rebuilding Sadr City, using government money as much as possible. He always claims the credit for that very successfully. And so as far as that part of the plan goes, he appears to be cooperating. All the signs are that his militia is not intending en masse to resist the US.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Hughes, you're on the record as saying that the US would be walking into a minefield if it entered Sadr City. It started doing that this week – what do you make of it?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Well, it's a move that had been anticipated for quite some time, and when I said it was going to walk into a minefield that was in the context that it would go into a lot of trouble if it didn't do it carefully and coordinate it with the civil leaders of that part of Baghdad. They have been, as it's been reported to me, the military command has been in daily contact with the Mayor's cell of Sadr City, that he would actively participate in the planning for this operation and in fact has sanctioned it and said, “Yes, let's do this.” That doesn't mean that there aren't problems awaiting the Americans there. One ill-advised incident can turn that population into an opposition force, and so the Americans have to be very careful when they go into Sadr City. A single mistake could upset the entire effort.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can that move happen without bloodshed, the kind of bloodshed that you feared would happen in a more aggressive move into Sadr City?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Well, so far it appears to be moving along in a peaceful manner, although last night I heard many explosions from that direction of Baghdad. There is a lot of money being put towards this, but the Americans are very cumbersome in how they apply that money, not only because they don't have an organisation yet to apply it, but because American laws also constrain how that money can be applied. With regards to the organisation, the Department of State is supposed to build these small embedded provincial reconstruction teams and yet they have no people to provide to those teams, and in fact the Department of State has gone to the Defense Department to find the people to do this. Well, that raises questions in my mind about how well the Americans can sustain the effort. Surely we can go in with the military and clear Sadr City, but if you don't follow it up with sustainable market development – now I'm not talking about digging ditches, as we did in 2004 and 2005, I'm talking about creating a market economy and reinvigorating the middle class – you're not going to gain much in the long term, and that's what the Iraqi people want to see. They want to see some kind of investment for the long term.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lady up the back there, yes.
WOMAN: My question is how well did the coalition of the willing do their homework in intelligence before they went into Iraq, and were they not able to see that any of this may have happened?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): You know, there is an old Italian proverb that says the downfall of a magician is belief in his own magic, and that certainly describes how we did our homework before we came to Iraq. We thought we knew everything there was to know about this country and, when we arrived, we knew very little. We didn't do a very good job for a variety of reasons, not just because of our technical inability to ascertain what was happening on the ground, but the political dynamics in Washington, DC, dictated that you had to believe a certain way, and that's how the plans were constructed, so we did a terrible job.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lara Logan, I'd like to just get back to what's happening now. Given Moqtada's hardline anti-American rhetoric, what do you make of what he's doing now? He's lying low. We heard a couple of weeks ago he might have fled to Iran. Clearly there's been an easing-off in some of the activities of the Mehdi Army. What do you make of this? What do you think it's all about? What's going on?
LARA LOGAN: It's about survival and political power. It's about the end game, it's not just about now. Moqtada has very successfully managed to be a member of this government, he's not physically a member, but his political bloc is. He controls at least four or five ministries and yet he still styles himself as the man in opposition to anything this government does that's unpopular with the people, and that requires a certain kind of political skill. Now, what he's doing in terms of lying low is he's keeping everybody guessing and that may be the best thing for his survival right now – weather the storm, see how the security plan goes, he's using this as an opportunity to cleanse his own organisation of militia leaders who have become too powerful, or who he wants to get rid of. How far the US is prepared to go in damaging the core of his organisation remains to be seen. He's taken some heavy hits, but I don't think there's any question that Moqtada has every intention of surviving this, coming out the other end to live to fight another day, so to speak, because of the conflict between the Shi'ite community. No-one in this government is powerful enough on their own to control Iraq right now, so everything you see is a marriage of convenience between the competing interests for power as they try and suppress the threat from the Sunni insurgency, suppress the al-Qaeda threat, the rival militias playing the US off against each other, and the question remains – who is going to emerge at the end of this as being the main power inside Iraq, and it might very well be Moqtada al-Sadr.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joost Hiltermann, who do you think might emerge as the power and what do you think the likely outcome might be of this surge?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Yeah, well, the outcome of the surge will be a return to civil war because it is clearly a military effort and not a political one. I don't think that If you do not match the military initiative, which anyway is insufficient because of the number of troops – if you do not match that with the political effort to bring about a compromise, a national compact, really, between the various groups in Iraq, that would include the insurgents, then as soon as the American troops withdraw from Baghdad, as they are going to, the various groups that are fighting each other, or were fighting each other, will resume their battle, because the basic issues have not gone away. The compact has to be about those basic issues – that is the sharing of oil revenues, it is the nature of the federal system that is envisaged for Iraq, it is the issue of de-Ba'athification and it is a slew of other issues that have to be addressed politically. Only then can you think of some kind of reconciliation.
JENNY BROCKIE: But aren't we starting to see that? Aren't we starting to see a bit of political movement? Aren't we starting to see, you know, forces in the region starting to talk to one another and express their concern about the lack of stability, for example?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Yes, that is a very positive sign, that is correct. We are now seeing that the US may in fact be willing to engage Syria and Iran. I think that is critical to any kind of solution. It will not be sufficient, but it is necessary. But I think we should also see in Iraq itself an effort not only to work through the Iraqi Government, but with the Iraqi Government and the other political actors, including the insurgents, to come to a political compromise. I think anything short of that is going to fail. What you see now is an effort to contain the civil war within Iraq by having the neighbouring states involved, by having talks, for example, also between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That is positive, but it will not in itself end the civil war in Iraq, it will simply contain it.
JENNY BROCKIE: And will the surge do anything to help? Will the US surge of troops and the new strategy do anything to help that process?
JOOST HILTERMANN: If the surge is aimed at bringing the parties around the table, then it can have a positive result, but so far we have only seen an effort at a military campaign that is going to be short-lived, with no particular political initiative to follow it that involves all of Iraq's political actors, and so I'm worried that for now we see Moqtada al-Sadr laying low and ready to come back the moment the Americans declare victory and get out.
JENNY BROCKIE: A lady up the back wanted to say something.
WOMAN: Just a question for Paul. Is it possible at all in the near or far future if America wants to come in and take over the government, or attempt to, is it possible to have a government without any religious priorities at all?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (Ret.): Oh, that's difficult to say here. You know, the culture of this region is one where it's very difficult to separate religion from politics. The ummah of Islam supersedes national boundaries, and it's difficult to say we're going to separate politics from religion, but there are ways that this can be melded, and the Iraqis I'm sure can figure this out for themselves if they have the breathing space in which to do it. As our guest in Amman said, this is about legitimacy, this is not about military victory. There will be no military victory here, it has to be a political decision to reach some sort of scheme that provides a national government with legitimacy, and there are many factors that play into this. It's economic, it's diplomatic, it's political, it's informational, but until we get these dynamics working together to achieve this sense of legitimacy, this will be a country in turmoil for many, many years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Hughes, we're talking about politics and political solutions but, ultimately, who is going to disarm these militias? How is that going to happen?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): It's first going to require a political decision among the various militias and the national government of Iraq to settle on a plan for what's called disarmament demobilisation and reintegration. And the US, because it's a belligerent, is really going to be at disadvantage at being an influential player in that negotiation. It really has to be among the Iraqis. They have to decide that they want to have a national compact, and as part of that compact there needs to be a plan that says this is how militiamen will be disarmed and demobilised and then given job training to come back into society as productive members of society. That's a very expensive and very long process.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lara, do you think we'll see the disarming of the Mehdi Army, for example, or is this just a temporary respite that we're seeing, the lying low of that army?
LARA LOGAN: I don't see any kind of commitment from the political leadership of Iraq to disarming the militias. How can you disarm them when the leader of the most organised and disciplined militia, the Badr Corps, Abdul al-Mehdi, he is in the government, he is the Minister of National Security on the National Security Council. When your most powerful militias are inside all the organs of state, it's very hard to see how those militias can ever be disarmed. Paul is right. It's a very long process.
JENNY BROCKIE: So if disarmament doesn't work, if disarming these militias doesn't work and if the surge doesn't work, what are we left with in Iraq? What are the people of Iraq left with?
LARA LOGAN: Chaos.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that all, Lara? Just chaos?
LARA LOGAN: Oh, I'm sorry. You said Paul. Sorry. I thought you were addressing the question at someone else. No, what we're left with – what we're left with really is chaos. When you talk to Iraqi people, many of them say, “As much as we've suffered, we haven't suffered enough yet.” That basically the parties here have to fight for the death, that one side has always emerged victorious over the other, and that will ultimately be the deciding factor here. I mean, what is very hard is that for Iraqi people trying to eke out some kind of existence in this situation is very, very bad, and you can see Iraqis are voting with their feet. Right now, everyone is trying to leave this country. You come across it day after day after day – somebody new asking you, “Please help me get my family out, get me out. I'll go anywhere.” Anywhere except their own country. And these are people who don't want to leave Iraq. They feel they are being forced to leave Iraq, because they don't see the surge working, they don't see the violence ending. One young Iraqi man that I interviewed just recently, he lost eight friends – he was a student at the university here – he lost eight friends in a double car bombing. He said to me, “The wounds of this conflict will take hundreds of years to heal. That's what we're left with now.” This is a country of suspended dreams, is what people say to me. “We're trapped here. This is a prison. We have no future. Our lives are on hold.” There is no social fabric left of this society. There is no such thing as going across the street to see your neighbours. Iraqis haven't been from one side of the capital to the other in two-three years, some of them. This is a society that has completely and utterly broken down. It's facing a crisis of leadership. We're not seeing from the leaders of this country what it's really going to take to pull Iraq out of this, we are not seeing in the US plan – especially from the political side – the Baghdad security plan is not just a military plan, there is a huge economic component to this plan, but without being able to enforce security, it's hard to see how the economic component is going to have enough oxygen and enough time to really take root, and it has to be sustainable, as one of the other guests was saying, a long-term economic sustainability and a whole system of aided projects, and US laws doesn't allow for that.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm going to have to stop you, Lara, because we are about to lose the satellite. Paul, do you see as grim a picture as Lara, just quickly? Is that the way you see the future for Iraq?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): No, I don't see that as the future for Iraq. We have to understand that this is a complex society, and it's going to take a lot of time, patience and work to help the Iraqi people fix their country, but it's important to also remember the history of the Kurds. Remember, the Kurds fought a long civil war amongst themselves and eventually figured out how to live together. I think that that could be the outcome for the entire country, but it's going to take a long time, it's going to take a lot of effort, it's not going to be easy, there will be setbacks, you know, and there have been a lot of mistakes made, but I think that the Iraqis can figure this out if they're given the support, and that's my message. We need to stay and help them.
JENNY BROCKIE: And if you have to guess, Paul, about who will emerge as the leader of Iraq, the most powerful person in Iraq, who would you guess it's likely to be?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Perhaps we may find an acceptable leader that will come out of one of the more moderate parties, Ayad Allawi or someone like that, I'm not sure. It's difficult to say at this particular point of time.
JENNY BROCKIE: And will America stay until that happens, do you think, stay the course?
COLONEL PAUL HUGHES (RET.): Well, I think that the American military and the American Government will remain committed here for much longer than they are willing to admit right now.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joost Hiltermann, a final comment from you. How do you see the future for Iraq and who do you think will emerge as the power-broker there?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, I think it's really premature to point at a power-broker for Iraq and also we have to question whether there will be a single Iraq or there will be a number of statelets emerging from the current situation. I don't see anybody at the moment who can rise above the squabbling that's going on, and the fighting that's going on between the various Iraqi groups, and I don't think at the moment that it's clear that anyone will emerge even as the strongest actor. Much will be determined by the neighbouring states in the future, for good or for bad, and I think we face a prolonged period of instability and chaos and I think the biggest challenge will be to prevent the civil war in Iraq from spilling over into the neighbouring states. That would be a disaster for the entire region, and for the US and for the other countries in the West, so for now I would say we have to make all of our efforts to bring about a compromise. If that fails, to at least contain the civil war within Iraq and then much is uncertain as to what will happen.
JENNY BROCKIE: Meanwhile, Mussab, I'd like to come back to you to finish. When do you think you are likely to be able to return to Iraq, as an Iraqi?
MUSSAB AL-JARRAH: Well, I think every person has the right to hope to go back home. The home that I left was the biggest sacrifice. But I personally think that the dilemma is quite intricate and I think the situation is very obnoxious. I believe that there is a big damage, there is this feeling of hatred and antagonism among people. I disagree with a lot of people who think that the problem could all be resolved politically. I think it is much bigger than that. I think there is a big psychological damage that has taken place among the Iraqis. I believe that there are thousands of people, thousands of criminals out there in the streets of Iraq, who are willing to kill in cold blood, who are blood terrorists and who have an appetite for destruction. I think this kind of damage will take quite a long time to heal. It takes us quite a long time to heal this kind of damage, the psychological damage. I hope that this could take less than it should, you know, but I personally think and I have to admit that the hope is very frail for me personally.
JENNY BROCKIE: And, Mussab, do you want the Americans to stay, or do you want them to go?
MUSSAB AL-JARRAH: Well, I personally think that the issue of the Americans hasn't turned out to be the biggest problem anymore, but I personally think that the Americans staying in Iraq is essential at this point. I think that the American forces leaving Iraq at this point would make things worse. It might just spark things out and it would turn into a declared civil war among people. I think, you know, the Americans could be keeping things from getting worse right now.
JENNY BROCKIE: We are going to have to leave it there. We could keep going for a long time and we are going to be very interested to see how things play out in the next few weeks. But I would like to thank you all very much for bearing with us. I know we've had a few technical problems. Thank you very much, Lara Logan, in Baghdad. Thank you to you, Mussab al-Jarrah. Thank you very much for your time. Thank you, Paul Hughes, too for joining us from the Green Zone. And, Joost Hiltermann, thank you for joining us from Amman as well. Insight did invite Australian Major-General Jim Molan, who had fought Moqtada al-Sadr's forces in Iraq in 2004, on to the show to join us tonight. He actually agreed, but the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, stopped him from appearing, and did not want a serving member of our defence force to take part in our discussion tonight, which is a shame. We also invited Shi'ite politicians to appear with us tonight, but they also declined.
JENNY BROCKIE: Here is Lisa Main. But first a warning – some of the footage you're about to see contains graphic images of torture.