There's a new bogeyman in Iraq these days: Moqtada al-Sadr, whom this week Newsweek anoints "The Most Dangerous Man In Iraq." Which may well be true — certainly Thursday's horrific attacks in Sadr City are an indication, as well as Sadr's real threat to walk from Maliki's government if he meets with Bush tomorrow — but it would be nice to have a grain of salt with all these reports. Not only did Newsweek just two weeks ago say that Sadr's power was "slipping," it declared militant Shi'ite Abu Deraa to be the new heavy, noting that he is sometimes referred to as "the Shiite Zarqawi." Meanwhile, in today's cover story on al-Sadr, Deraa is not even mentioned — and speaking of Zarqawi, he's referred to only once in the story, with respect to his role in exacerbating sectarian strife in 2004. There is no mention of his triumphant, glorious capture in June, or the "turning point" it was supposed to be in Iraq. The questions raised in the Sadr piece, however, are the same: Whether it would actually destabilize Iraq more to take him out, whether there would be a rush of would-be militant leaders to take his place who might be even worse, etc. This would be a great time to look back at those Zarqawi questions and take a gestalt look at the cycle of violence in Iraq but instead Newsweek just focuses on a one-man enemy in a country where clearly there is a whole lot more to the problem. Again, as stated above I am not disputing that al-Sadr is every bit as dangerous as Newsweek claims (this week), but after the splashy, showy coverage of Zarqawi's death it seems critical for the news media not to fall into the trap of speculating forward without looking backward.
A final point: This may be criticism but it goes hand in hand with appreciation for Newsweek's correspondents and all the other media outlets who have reporters over there getting these stories (take a look at the list of contributors at the bottom of the story from Baghdad to Amman to Beirut to Cape Town) — we depend on then for this information, and are appreciative of what it's costing to get it. But it's precisely because we're depending on them for the information that it's so important that they provide it with context. Otherwise we're depending on Tony Snow. And that's probably not ideal, either.