With 72 hours to go until the latest deadline for Iraq’s political leaders to agree a new constitution, tension spilled on to the streets yesterday with mass demonstrations and reports of gunfire.

Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia cleric, marched in Baghdad in opposition to plans for a more federal state. ~The Daily Telegraph

Here is a fine example that ‘progress’ on the political track in Iraq is as much a recipe for further instability as it would be a measure of any success, no matter what sort of constitution Iraqi political leaders manage to cook up by Monday (and they all must know that another delay would be disastrous for their very poor credibility). Sadr is a thug and opportunist (which makes him uniquely suited for politics in a neocon-created order), but he is also the representative of an Iraqi Shi’ite tradition that is nationalist and clearly independent of the influence of Tehran, the perennial bogey invoked by ‘experts’ on Iraq that is probably the only thing standing between us and complete chaos in Iraq. If Washington really wanted to establish an Iraqi government that wouldn’t be dominated by pro-Tehran figures, it would not have elevated SCIRI to a position of such influence. Now that SCIRI pretends to represent all Shi’ite interests, and our news media indulge them by pretending that Shi’ites form some monolithic group, it was inevitable that Sadr would appear once more to try to throw a wrench in the works and reclaim the mantle of the ‘real’ Iraqi Shi’ite leader. What pathetic comedy if Sadr began his rebellion again in the name of the unified Iraq that our official policy has hitherto endorsed as a sine qua non of any future political arrangement!

Federalism or no, the U.S. must begin extricating our soldiers from this fiasco before the Iraqi crack-up accelerates, as it seems more and more likely to do. Several different people predicted or observed Somalia-like conditions in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. Those predictions have largely been fulfilled. It would have been hard to imagine anyone in 1993 saying that we ought to “stay the course” in Somalia until we could reconcile all the clans and create a functioning government, be it federal or otherwise. But that is exactly what Mr. Bush asks of Americans today, and we would be crazy to heed him, just as we would have been crazy to persist in Somalia in 1993. The difference is that Mr. Clinton, for his many flaws and generally immoral and equally abusive foreign policy, had the good political sense to get out of a pointless mission when the getting was good. As Mr. Bush goes on another dreary propaganda tour, it is clear that he has no intention of showing the same good sense.