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April 01, 2008

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hrumpth!

Marc,

I applaud you for having the courage to consider other narratives as you're doing with the CSM editorial. That's a far more reasonable approach than being certain about Iraq's doom. I apologize for being a jerk to you yesterday and earlier. This is the first time when I've felt that you are allowing your instinct of genuine intellectual curiosity to re-consider what I'd thought were knee-jerk reactions to anything coming out of Iraq. You're also doing it at a moment when the rest of herd is galloping in the other direction, and that's plain gutsy. Good for you.

Nur al-Cubicle

If the government and the US can work with the Sadrists to build political consensus around the establishment of state sovereignty over Basra

If this were possible, couldn't it have been attempted _before_ destroying half of Basrah and cutting supplies, fuel and power to the capital, Baghdad?

bb

This is a despicable source, I know, but I saw Charles Krauthammer describing events in Basra as the "Iraqi version of the Iowa caucuses."

He was being morbidly sarcastic but there is truth in the analogy and the CSM seems to have got it.

Derfel64

Iraqi Army troops are still in place in Basra and there are reports that, after Sadr´s order to militiamen to lay low, they entered the Mahdi Army neighborhoods in the city and are carrying out raids and arrests. This could be why some Sadrists were complaining that the government was not upholding the deal.

So tactically, Maliki could have made some gains - weaken the Sadrist hold on Basra or parts of it, as well as perhaps in some other parts of the South were there was Sadrist backlash but they were overwhelmed by security forces. But otherwise I think it has been a draw, perhaps to the advantage of Sadr: Maliki couldn´t enter the Mahdi Army areas, the country was shocked by the violence and in the end the government had to step back a litlle - and, Sadr managed to appear as the pacifier who after getting attacked defeated the opresors and cut a deal to bring calm. Sadr´s reputation is not going to change overnight but this is a significant political victory over Maliki, 3 days, then 10 days, then no negotiation then truce - pathetic statements and attittudes for a leader.


I agree in that Maliki´s/ISCI objectives were to deal a quick, clean yet heavy blow at Sadr and at the same time stablish central authority over Basra, but I don´t think this is related to provincial elections. Cavalry Charge must have been in the making for several weeks or some months, from well before the elections law was passed - and ISCI expected this law not to be passed. So a crackdown was in the making anyway.

I think this comes in a context in which the central government, factionally dominated by ISCI/Dawa, wants to impose its authority over Mahdi Army areas. This has been happening in earnest since mid-to-late 2007 when sunni insurgents ceased to be a serious threat (and US-backed sunni militias were impossible to bring under control politically and for many other reasons. In fact the central government has been quite timid and restrained in its relations with the sunnis since many months ago).

So taking advantage of Sadr´s ceasefire, the government decided to tidy up its messy backyard, the shiite militia areas.

In fact, Sadr and Hakim signed a truce in Diwaniya last October, but then in November the Iraqi Army heavily deployed there in Operation Lion´s Leap. This was a flat stab-in-the-back. Sadrists obviously complained of being displaced, rounded up, mistreated at prisons and in some cases assassinated. It also deployed in Amarah following the mysterious bombings and in Kut following American raids and clashes several months ago, and of course following the British withdrawal there were more forces sent to Basrah. And even in Baghdad, Army troops could do little apart from keeping a watch on the sunnis starting about August 2007, but there were plenty of frictions in shiite areas with the militia. So even before Cavalry Charge, the government was agressively attacking Sadrist turf. If massive fighting didn´t break out earlier it was because Sadr was mostly worried about keeping his ceasefire and could not risk a confrontation when he was weak. (BTW, does anyone really know why Sadr declared a ceasefire?)


But then, what perhaps Dawa/ISCI had not anticipated is that tensions BEFORE the Basra battle would be so high. I don´t think this was a coincidence. I think that Sadr must have known of the operation and, by launching attacks on the Green Zone and declaring a "mini-strike" in some Baghdad neighborhoods (this happened in fact the day before Cavalry Charge!) he would give the government a strong warning and deter it from launching the operation. In this context, his decision to extend the ceasefire was the only thing he could do - otherwise he would give the government the perfect excuse to launch an all-out attack.


And the ceasefire wasn´t mentioned in Sadr´s 9-point statement, so it´s now dead. The truce isn´t nearly as strict as the first ceasefire: it only mentions stopping the fight against the government and belatedly advices the militiamen to prepare for the fight with Americans. Interviewed Mahdi Army members say the same: "maybe our problems with the government are over, but not with the Americans".

THE ONLY card Sadr can play, with his still bad reputation and with nobody really willing to help him against the government, is the fight against occupation. Over the next months, specially as the US election approaches, the Mahdi Army is gonna try to kill as many Americans as it can.

Although sunni groups will never acknowledge it, Sadr´s attacks may somehow embarrass them and incite them to make more attacks on the Americans. A sunni insurgent group has claimed the last attacks on the Green Zone and Americans are still taking casualties in Anbar and Salaheddin, apart from Mosul.

Zathras

Analogies between Iraq today and America during the early Federal period always send my eyeballs skyward. Good thing for me I don't see them made too often.

However, here's a question: what happens to Maliki now (that is, over the next several weeks)? His faction isn't going anywhere, and neither is ISCI. But all accounts suggest that he is being seen as having failed pretty badly, bungling an attempt to weaken a factional rival (or, looked at differently, to assert the central government's authority over a vital city). He also cannot have ingratiated himself with the Americans he works with every day. Granting that Dawa/ISCI's strength in Iraqi national and provincial politics is an important issue, at what point do a preponderance of influential people within these factions insist that Maliki withdraw in favor of someone thought to be more effective?

If that point doesn't come, will that mean the pervailing media narrative about how the Basra episode is being perceived in Iraq is wrong? Will it suggest instead that Maliki's political position is so strong that it can withstand a serious blunder on his part? Or will it merely mean that the factions now supporting him can't agree on anyone better?

JHM

As often before, I get the impression that the Republicans must have been annihilated by magic while I was not paying total attention, with the happy result that one can -- "we" can, doves and donkeys can -- now decide exactly what to impose upon the former Iraq without any impertinent interference from that self-discredited quarter.

The GOP geniuses were, however, still in business at the same old conceptual premises as of last Sunday, 30 March 2008. Witness General M. Hayden of GOP and CIA on "Meet the Press":

What we have is, is, is a very DECISIVE act on the part of Prime Minister Maliki to get PERSONALLY involved and commit his forces and his government to extending Iraqi government control over parts of Iraqi that, frankly, have not been under much central government control now for several years. It's a very DECISIVE moment; it's a very challenging thing.

And furthermore , at a less exalted level, but also after the great DECISION:

When the Iraqi government finally took the long-expected action to establish control of Basra after the British pullback left it in the hands of militias and gangsters, suddenly the media declared that the country had reached the brink of collapse. They highlighted stories of defections from the Iraqi military and opined that the surge had failed. Moqtada al-Sadr would finally achieve his goal of controlling the South and would expose the Baghdad government as a house of cards.

Guess which side just sued for peace?

(( snip quoted news story ))

Anyone who follows the news closely in Iraq knew this day would come. The British left a power vacuum behind in the south that the Baghdad government could not fill at the time, and Sadr and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s Badr Brigades filled it instead. They have fought each other and some smaller Shi’ite groups for control of the streets ever since 2005, as Steven Vincent tried to warn people just before they murdered him in Basra. The Iraqi government had no choice but to challenge the militias for control of Basra and the surrounding areas, but they waited until the Iraqi Army had enough strength to succeed.

Did our media give anyone this context? No. They reported it as some kind of spontaneous eruption of rebellion without noting at all that a nation can hardly be considered sovereign while its own security forces cannot enter a large swath of its own territory. And in the usual defeatist tone, they reported that our mission in Iraq had failed without waiting to see what the outcome of the battle would be.

Sadr now wants to disavow anyone with a gun. The Mahdis, which found themselves on the short end of the stick, have just watched their Fearless Leader surrender — again — and this time leaving them twisting in the wind. That isn’t the action of a victor. Perhaps our media would like to explain that in the context of their clueless reporting so far.

___
I do not recommend such militant GOP baloney to anybody, naturally -- but to ignore it as if it doesn't significantly exist?

Happy days.

Yasmine

I just received an email from the “National Dialogue Front" Basra Branch .
It says: Following several days of fierce battling in each and every road district and alley has left the families of Basra to encounter a grim fate.
The “Smiling Basra” (ironically it’s a nickname Basra is renown for, because of its people who appreciate singing dancing and living a good life) is in dire need of food, bread, medicine and most of all potable water.
Since the hospitals are in wrecked conditions and lacking the basic needs of treatment and first aid to the thousands of Basrians, therefore the people of Basra are urging the respectable masses around the world for help. God Bless You All!

******
Fundamentally, who is the “biggest loser” Maliki or Sadr ? For me, an average Iraqi who has seen and been through it all , both of them are still well and alive! What more do they need? While my fellow Basrians have to deal with the dreadful aftermath.
When will they ever learn to resolve to negotiations as a solace ? When will anyone favor the lives of the innocent over their own interests? Hasn’t Basra seen enough blood shed and tragedy throughout the past three decades? Will we ever see it smiling again?

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