As a wide-eyed Saddam Hussein fell through the trap door to meet his maker, the background noise in the video of the event clearly reveals the chant "Muqtada Sadr, Muqtada Sadr...."
Little note was made of this at the time, but, looking back, it may have been a highly significant and telling moment. ItÂ obviously signaled the end for one dictatorial leader, but possibly it also presaged the ascension of another.
It should be remembered that, despite his faults, Hussein was a secular leader who served as an effective buffer against the expansionist desires of Iran.
Muqtada Sadr, whose star is continuing to rise in Iraq's political arena, is, on the other hand, an anti-American Shiite cleric who may well, at some point, align himself with the Shiite nation of Iran.
When judging those in our government that engineered this regime change, we should not forget the foregoing facts, which may represent the single most damaging aspect of U.S.Â foreign policy under the Bush administration.
Sadr isÂ increasingly being described in press reports as beingÂ one of the most powerful and revered leaders in the Shiite community, which accounts for 60% of Iraq's population.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged that the U.S. recognizes Sadr's place in Iraqi politics.Â This prompted Sadr to lash back yesterday with the comment "I tell them, you will always be my enemies to the last drop of my blood."
Today, although Nouri Maliki is the president anointed by Washington, it is Sadr who more and more seems to be directing the course of events in Iraq.Â And it is Sadr who arguably has the best chance of emerging as the nation's ultimate leader after the United States finally relinquishes its grasp on the country.
Of course there will be bloodshed, and the U.S. policy of arming the Sunnis virtually guaranties that likelihood. However, many now believe that Sadr's Mahdi army of 60,000 to 100,000 strong will begin from its position of strength in Baghdad and eventually control most of central and southern Iraq.
Meanwhile the much heralded testimony in Washington by the administration's team of Petraeus and Crocker turned out to be the yawner most people expected. To no one's surprise, the general and the ambassador recommended the policy which the president just so happens to subscribe to, namely a halt in the reduction of the troop strength.
And the current stable of presidential candidates also took the occasion of the testimony to outline the policies which everyone knows they subscribe to.
It was of some interest, however, that Petraeus and Crocker made little mention of Al Qaeda in favor of a continuation of the Iran bashing we've been inundated with lately, a drumbeat that looks more and more like the propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
And, speaking of Iran, an apparent bomb blast killed nine people and injured more than 100 in the southern city of Shiraz last night.Â According to an Iranian news agency, the victims were gathered in a Shiite house of worship to hear a religious speech about the dangers of Sunni extremists.
The attack was likely carried out by Sunni militants, and Iran will probably accuse the U.S., Israel and Britain of playing a role.Â In similar situations in the past, Iran has said it had intelligence to support its allegations of western involvement.
Back in Iraq, it has been a dangerous April for American troops.Â Last week, the Department of Defense released the obituaries of 18 military personnel killed in that country, ranging in age from 19 to 54. This is the highest weekly number in nearly seven months.
Illustrating the fact that there is no safe haven in Baghdad, two of the casualties were a major and a colonel who were killed by a rocket while working out in the U.S. embassy's fitness center in the highly fortified Green Zone.
Eight of the fallen heroes (44%) were felled by roadside bombs, none of whom were riding in the new, blast-resistant vehicles known as M-RAPS.
According to the web site www.icasualties.org, U.S. deaths in Iraq now stand at 4,033.
Incidentally, www.icasualties.org, a non-profit site, and the ultimate source for casualty data in the war, is now in the process of recovering from what it describes as a vicious cyber-attack that decimated its content.
There were no American casualties in Afghanistan this week.Â However, the L.A. Times reported today that the fighting there is likely to heat up.Â With the improved weather conditions, Taliban fighters are streaming back into southern Afghanistan from their winter quarters in Pakistan, according to the Times, and 2,300 U.S. Marines have recently arrived in support of the NATO forces in the Kandahar area.
Total U.S. deaths in Afghanistan were 424 as of April 5, according to the Pentagon.