Things are not what they seem inside Iraq. Boiling just below the surface of the U.S. military's painstaking efforts to quell urban violence throughout Baghdad and the still violent-ridden cities of the north is the evil Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Moqtada announced today that he may call off his self-imposed cease fire that has kept the Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army from resuming its bloody war against American and Iraq forces.
Moqtada's statement may be just a ploy to compel the shaky Iraqi government to pay more lip service to his political agenda that ultimately aims at taking over the Shiite dominated government of Iraq. Or, it could signal an actual end to the ceasefire because he is increasingly worried that the newly-armed Sunni militias, whether by default or by design encouraged by our military, are increasingly targeting his Mahdi Army.
Whatever may be Moqtada's motive, a resumption of warfare against American troops will have a direct impact on John McCain's presidential ambitions. Why?
McCain has been cheeleader-in-chief of the military's Iraqi "surge" strategy. He has ridden the surge like a magic carpet arguing to the American people that he deserved a good deal of the credit for forcing the Bush Administration to adopt it. Even on the ashes of a failed policy, poll after poll shows that the surge's success in quelling much of the violence in Baghdad and in Al Anbar province has effectively taken Iraq off the political agenda of the presidential campaign as the top issue of concern to Americans.
But keeping the lid on Baghdad's violence has less to do with Al Qaeda in Iraq (largely reduced to a band of scattered terrorists), and far more to do with the venom that could be once again unleashed by Moqtada's Mahdi Army and the other Shiite militias that take their orders from Iran's Revolutionary Guard leadership just across the border.
If Moqtada decides to revert to violence, the U.S. military will be forced to turn its sights against the Mahdi Army and the casualties will surely ramp up and grab front page headlines back in the U.S.
That would certainly not augur well for McCain's presidential campaign.
Despite the surge's military gains, the last thing that Gen. Petreaeus needs is to have to reengage the Mahdi Army, which has proven time and again to be a force to be reckoned with. And the last thing McCain needs is a media that begins reminding the American people why his unyielding support for a long term commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq is just a carryover of Bush's Iraq disaster.
Moqtada is no fool. He is a cunning chameleon who has successfully played us like a fiddle. His ultimate goal is to become leader of Iraq, and if that happens, surge and all, that would constitute the ultimate measure of defeat for the America's failed Iraq policy. Moqtada is not yet that close to the prize, but he will make a calculated determination whether even a limited break of the cease fire could compel the Iraqi government to more forcefully reign in the Sunni rearming taking place under the guise of the Sunni Awakening.
Last night in Columbus, Ohio, McCain turned his sights on Barack Obama and fired away at his inexperience as a potential commander in chief. But McCain's unfair attacks on Obama may backfire on him. Like any other terror leader in the world, Moqtada is carefully watching the Presidential campaign in the U.S. Moqtada knows that a McCain victory will keep American troops in Iraq far longer than he can tolerate in order to fulfill his political ambitions. That's why Moqtada may soon decide it is time to send a signal to the American people that McCain's Iraq strategy is full of holes. If that happens, McCain's magic surge carpet may fast lose its altitude, and there is nothing that he will be able to do about it.
Unfortunately, in this dangerous game of "surge political chicken" it's the American military that will have to defend McCain's misplaced bravado.