By Ramzy Baroud
"......However, despite his seemingly erroneous strategies and media depictions as a 'radical', al-Sadr has actually adopted a very careful balancing act. He has continued to appeal to his Shiite followers in a way that sets him apart from al-Sistani, while simultaneously maintaining good relations with al-Sistani and Iran. He has even occasionally appeared sympathetic to the plight of the Sunnis.
Yet his relative political shrewdness could hardly bridge the gap between the various Shiite groups, which remains essentially ideological and an extension of the theological contention between the Hawza followers of al-Sistani and the followers of Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada's father. The divide between the two religious Shiite schools is as real as ever and the new economic woes and power struggles are likely to bring back to the fore - and further fuel - these differences. With Badr Brigade claiming 70,000 strong militiaman and al-Mahdi counting over 50,000, both groups are overwhelmed with fear and mistrust; under these circumstances, the prospect of co-existence seems bleak.
We know very little of why al-Sadr decided to send the al-Mahdi army into hibernation. He claims that his militias are being infiltrated by Iran, but this is unconvincing given that al-Sadr uses Iran as a personal escape whenever his safety is threatened at home. The US military continues to crack down on his followers, and the Iraqi military, mostly controlled by his rivals, are carrying mass arrests in al-Sadr city and elsewhere. A lenient al-Sadr may well inspire revolt amongst his followers and send the inner Shiite fight on an early and destructive path, or he might find himself compelled to resume the fight on behalf of his own group. Both scenarios would be bad news for the Americans, who would be forced to watch an escalating Shiite power struggle in a country they supposedly control."
I disagree with Ramzy's conclusion that an escalating inter Shiite fight would be bad news for the U.S. The U.S. goal remains to fragment Iraq into smaller and smaller pieces for easier control. Since the Shiites are the majority (about 60%), they have to be broken up.