As geoff noted, we were prematurely jubilant upon the news that Shiite politicians had formed a bloc and sought as-Sistani’s blessing for it. As-Sistani refused to do so, on grounds that he could not endorse a measure that would divide Shiites. This was an oblique reference to as-Sadr.
Frankly, I was disappointed but not all that surprised. If he endorsed the bloc, the potential for a civil war between Shiites would increase. As Iraq’s Shiites’ leader, it seems he felt this would not be something he could in good conscience do.
What this means is that rather than forcing as-Sadr to give up his militia-mongering, Shiite politicians would have to pander to as-Sadr and what conditions he would set.
Undoubtedly, one of these conditions would include a guarantee from the government that attacks on Shiites will stop and that perpetrators would be severely punished. It is to be expected that another sick condition would include some guarantee of autonomy to his militias and to Shiite areas. Thus, although anti-Sunni attacks may stop, as-Sadr would be able to continue to exercise armed hegemony over his areas.
And we must not forget one of as-Sadr’s prime sponsors: Iran. It may also be possible that as-Sistani refused to endorse the bloc so as to avoid a confrontation with Iran or its proxies.
A major problem with allowing as-Sadr autonomy is that then he would become Iran’s Iraqi equivalent to Lebanon’s Nasrollah.
[Saying that I wanted to see how the meeting went with as-Sistani turned out to be the right approach. I suppose it pays to be cautious when it comes to developments in world politics.]
And as much as the Shiites have suffered, it is time for permanent measures to be emplaced to protect their security, otherwise this militia-mongering will become endemic to Iraqi Shiite society, as has happened among the Palestinians, which would not be good at all.