Cole in the bullrushes

 Juan Cole has decided that Muqtada al-Sadr can’t be in Iran. He has no way of knowing that from freezing Ann Arbor, but his method, if it can be called that, is to bring all his superior knowledge to bear, and then surmise the truth. So even though the United States military and an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister have placed Sadr in Iran—presumably on the basis of some intelligence—Cole holds fast to his conviction that Sadr is in Iraq.

Today he relays a report that, he claims, substantiates his thesis:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Muqtada al-Sadr and several leaders of his movement as well as commanders of his Mahdi Army are present in the southern marshlands of Iraq, a place in which dissidents in the former Baath regime used to hide out… The Marsh Arab inhabitants of the swamps have largely become followers of Sadr, and so would protect him. They are in an area of Iraq that borders Iran and which serves as a smuggling route between the two countries, which may have given rise to the idea that Muqtada was on his way to Iran. He more likely is holed up in the marshes. This is the most plausible story I have seen yet on Muqtada’s disappearance.

But Al-Hayat in Arabic does not report that Sadr and his deputies “are present in the southern marshlands of Iraq.” The press report Cole references says that, according to informed sources, Sadr et al. are “on the Iraqi-Iranian border in the area of the marshes” (see Arabic below). Some marshes are in Iraq, but there are vast trans-border marshes (e.g., Hawizah) that are shared by Iraq and Iran. Al-Hayat‘s sources are therefore very careful to leave open the question of whether Sadr is in Iran or Iraq, by placing him on the border.

Cole, however, distorts the report, citing it as evidence that Sadr remains in Iraq. There are only two possibilities. Perhaps Cole didn’t read the Arabic text carefully; it wouldn’t be the first time his Arabic, which he claims to “command,” failed to obey. Or perhaps he understood the Arabic but deliberately twisted the report. I don’t know which it is in this instance, but the bottom line is the same: don’t trust Cole to relay the content of an Arabic source. Check it yourself.

Is Sadr in Iran or Iraq? I don’t know, and Cole doesn’t have a clue either.

وعلمت «الحياة» من مصادر مطلعة ان الصدر وعدداً كبيراً من قادة «جيش المهدي» موجودون على الحدود العراقية – الايرانية، في منطقة الأهوار، التي كانت ملجأ الجهات المعارضة للنظام السابق