John Burns of the NY Times suggests that Paul Bremer really is playing the Shi'ites against the Sunnis in Iraq. In fact, one might almost think we had a plan - where is my lithium carbonate?
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 4 — Representatives of Iraq's most influential Shiite leaders met here on Tuesday and demanded that Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric, withdraw militia units from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, stop turning the mosques there into weapons arsenals and return power to Iraqi police and civil defense units that operate under American control.
The Shiite leaders also called, in speeches and in interviews after the meeting, for a rapid return to the American-led negotiations on Iraq's political future. The negotiations have been sidelined for weeks by the upsurge in violence associated with Mr. Sadr's uprising across central and southern Iraq and the simultaneous fighting in Falluja, the Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad.
On Tuesday, the Shiite leaders, including a representative of a Shiite clerical group that has close ties to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, effectively did what the Americans have urged them to do since Mr. Sadr, a 31-year-old firebrand, began his attacks in April: they tied Iraq's future, and that of Shiites in particular, to a renunciation of violence and a return to negotiations.
Not to be overlooked is the news about the isolation of Sadr within the Shi'ite community. However, our attention is elsewhere:
...The Shiite leaders convened in Baghdad on short notice, reflecting their urgency to calm a month's violence sown by Mr. Sadr across much of southern Iraq. Equally disturbing to many Shiites, American occupation officials, faced with the dual challenges from Mr. Sadr and Sunni Muslim insurgents in Falluja, have handed some authority in Falluja to elements of Saddam Hussein's former army, despised by Shiites as an instrument of his repression.
...Several speakers implied that the Sunni minority intended to derail the American-led political process, and thus the prospect of a Shiite majority government. On few occasions, if any, since the American invasion last year, have mainstream Shiite leaders spoken so bluntly in public of the political rivalry with the Sunnis, who were referred to repeatedly by speakers as "they" or "the other side," and barely at all by name.
Before joining with other Shiite leaders for the Tuesday meeting here, Shiites on the governing council, including Mr. Mahdi, had a tempestuous meeting with the two top American officials in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian chief of the occupation authority, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of American forces.
At one point, the council members said, they told the Americans they were risking civil war between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities by endorsing the Falluja deal with elements of Mr. Hussein's old army.
All we were saying was, give peace a chance. And it looks like giving one of Saddam's henchmen a chance to deliver the peace was enough to bring these folks back to the table.
Not that I'm saying we planned this (not yet, anyway), but luck favors the bold. Or, as the noted South of the Border Socialist "Lefty" Gomez once observed, "I'd rather be lucky than good".