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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



  Mook's Spooked
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 2/16/07

Looks like our team won this round of Spook-the- Mook. A best-in-show source in Baghdad confirms that Muqtada al-Sadr took off on a road-trip to Iran. And he wasn't just cruising in search of a Reuben sandwich.

The game ain't over until the fat mullah's scared. No matter how he tries to explain it away, Muqtada's public cowardice is going to hurt him - after he encouraged his followers to martyr themselves. There already had been rumors of mutinies in the Mahdi Army that threatened Mookie himself.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

One more reason to run.

It's going to be hard for him to maintain his image as an Iraqi nationalist after running to mommy back in Qom or Tehran. To be fair, the Mookster hasn't always done Iran's bidding in the past - but now he's going to owe the Shiraz Sopranos.

Oh, and that trusted source tells me that Mookie's not the only bad actor who's fled the country - he's the marquee act, but the supporting cast took off, too. Leaving the chumps with the push-brooms to deal with the mess.

We and the Free Iraqis shouldn't miss a chance to portray that melon-bellied bigmouth as a wuss. He's always been glad to deliver fiery sermons, but whenever we delivered firepower he disappeared - letting others do the fighting for him.

In the past he at least went to ground on his home turf, hunkering down while his underlings fought and died. This time, his nerve failed him so badly that he jumped the border.

Why now? One thing Muqtada's always had is a strong survival instinct. He calculated just how far he could push - then ducked when the rounds started impacting. In 2003 and 2004, when we had the justification and means to kill him, he accurately judged that our leadership didn't have the guts to take him out.

What's changed? Plenty. Mookie's probably sensed that President Bush is cornered politically and, with little left to lose, isn't going to settle for more half-measures. The troop surge that Sen. Barack "I'm entitled!" Obama and so many others in Congress deride got his attention, too: Sadr City's no longer a safety zone.

And after being beaten sufficiently about the head and shoulders, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided that maybe Mookie's not the man of the future. Najaf and Karbala just don't feel safe anymore.

Over the past several weeks, we've taken out or busted nearly a dozen high-ranking Sadrists, the boys who decide where the bombs will go off and who choose the death-squad targets. It's hard to feel warm and fuzzy when your deputies keep going down.

And there's a new kid in town: Gen. Dave Petraeus is a different kind of adversary and Muqtada, who made his bones judging the limitations of his opponents, recognizes that the rules just changed. Petraeus has a tactile sense of Iraq that his predecessors in Baghdad simply lacked. And King David's out to win.

Muqtada's new strategy is to go dormant for this winter of discontent, to lay low himself and throttle back the activities of his Mahdi Army until we conclude the battle for Baghdad's been won and relax. He hopes we'll defeat his Sunni enemies for him, leaving him in position to call out his reserves and dominate the political scene thereafter.

We need to flush him out. By shaming him.

If he returns to Iraq, we should bust him. If he doesn't return, he'll bust his credibility. Either way, it looks like Muqtada's previously sound instincts failed him this time. He made the wrong call by sending himself into exile.

What should we do now? In addition to taunting Mookie in public, we need to hit his organization even harder - while he's hiding and his courage is in doubt. Nobody wants to die for a braggart who bails out when the flak starts.

Or perhaps we should meet quietly with the Iranians to encourage them to keep Muqtada in a gilded cage. And they just might: They only backed him reluctantly, after our early indecisiveness let him become a serious contender for power. From Tehran's perspective, Mookie's not a team-player, but a free agent with an unpredictable streak.

The fact that he's run to the Iranians now for safety and support makes backing him less attractive: Hakim and the Badr boys again look like the favorites to finish the race with their legs still under them.

Even more important, there's a pattern emerging that goes far beyond Iraq:

* Mookie ran to Iran.

* Osama's so scared he won't let himself be photographed.

* Hassan Nasrullah of Hezbollah ducked for cover as soon as Israel started shooting.

* The key leaders of Hamas hide out in Damascus, not Gaza or the West Bank.

Anybody see a pattern here?

Not only does the effectiveness of leaders-in-hiding plummet, but it makes an obvious case - which we've failed to exploit - that the demagogues who order in the suicide bombers and the AK-armed "martyrs" are personally in no rush to enter paradise.

Yes, leaders in any organization have different responsibilities than their line doggies. But real leaders lead from the front sufficiently often to inspire the troops and stay grounded in reality.

What Mookie's hasty hejira to Hamadan tells us is that our fanatical enemies, Sunni and Shia, face a leadership crisis. The dons of terror are afraid.

If we can't take advantage of that, shame on us. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2007 - NY Post

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