Meanwhile, Back at the War…

…it appears as though the US military has been drug into an all-out civil war between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite militia allies and Shiite militias loyal to his rival Moqtada al-Sadr; that Maliki didn’t bother to consult with the US before attacking Basra; and that Maliki is losing. Badly. Yeah, I definately need some rest now.

UPDATE: Maliki achieves a humiliating compromise, declares victory, and runs home.

UPDATE 2: It gets even better. Apparently, it was the IRANIANS who worked out the cease-fire when a group of Iraqi lawmakers flew to the Holy City of Qom. It’s hard to envision a more obvious sign that we have lost very nearly all control over the situation.

UPDATE 3: Now Iraqi legislators are saying that not only did Iran handle the ceasefire, but Maliki was out of the loop and “only informed” of the deal once it was done.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 6:01 am  Comments (12)  

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  1. And it’s interesting how quickly al-Sadr called for a ceasefire. The evidence from the last few clashes of this kind indicates that the Mahdi Army has a marked disadvantage against government forces. What really troubles me is that the U.S. and Iraqi governments both seem to rely on these temporary ceasefires as the evidence for “progress,” when in reality al-Sadr’s forces just keep regrouping for the next round. The sad irony is that a) there can be no permanent peace as long as these militias exist, b) the militias really CAN be beat by a sustained campaign, as each confrontation has shown, but c) no stomach exists for such a fight on either the part of the U.S. or Iraqi governments. So we’re stuck at an impasse. Either commit the forces necessary to destroy the militias for good, or give up and bail out.

  2. “the Mahdi Army has a marked disadvantage against government forces”

    Then how come they keep kicking their asses? They forced Maliki to flee, seized control of a television station and got IA troops to publicly defect to them. And wasn’t this just a splinter faction of MA, not even the whole deal? I have no doubt that the militia (really, any militia) would lose to a coherent army in a straight-up fight, but how often is that going to happen?

  3. I think the main answer to your question is that the government is not yet strong enough to assert control everywhere in Iraq, so it has had to cede some areas like Basra to the control of local militias. But to date, in every conflict with al-Sadr’s forces, it has been al-Sadr who has cried uncle and sued for a ceasefire, and the government’s had no real choice but to agree. That may be changing. I hope so, because it needs to. As long as you have large groups of people calling themselves “armies” who are not loyal to the government, any “peace” is purely illusory and temporary. It’s too early to tell for sure, but it’s a good sign if Iraqi forces can force militias to cry for ceasefires without significant numbers of American troops involved. In fact the combination of American air power and Spec Ops backing up the Iraqis is probably the only sane policy we can pursue at this point.

  4. “the government is not yet strong enough to assert control everywhere in Iraq”

    Which areas of Iraq ARE they asserting control? The militias are even lobbing mortars into the Green Zone.

  5. Baghdad has never been fully secured. The problem with mortars is that anyone can pull one out, fire it, and quickly disappear. Your point is well taken, though, as reports today consistently indicate this was a political defeat for al-Maliki. I still believe there is plenty of evidence that the Mahdi army would crumble under any sustained offensive by the government, with ample assistance from us, but that may be frankly irrelevent at this point. In some ways he has the same problem the Israeli government has. They have to suffer mortar and rocket fire every day, and when they finally get fed up enough to launch a military offensive, they do a lot of damage to the enemy, but they lose in other ways because they alienate the people, and in the warped Arab mind, getting your ass kicked by your enemy is actually a moral victory. They no longer expect to win wars in any conventional sense, but fighting and killing your enemies is enough. I think this is as true for al-Sadr and his men as it is for Hezbollah and Hamas, and as it was for Saddam, who crowed “victory” every time the Americans bombed the living shit out of him and destroyed his army, but failed to actually kill or capture him. Every time al-Sadr’s militia fights for a few days or a week and then cries “ceasefire” before their losses become too severe, they actually WIN in the eyes of the Iraqi populace.

  6. “in the warped Arab mind, getting your ass kicked by your enemy is actually a moral victory.”

    In that respect, the Battle of Basra may be seen as a Tet Offensive, a military victory (at least on points) that is nevertheless perceived as a defeat because it exposes the inherent weaknesses of the “victor.” It seems as though the Surge’s main stated goal, political reconciliation, failed to materialize in any meaningful faction, unless you include “further domination by Iran” in your definition.

  7. I think it would be more accurate to say that the Mahdi army has chosen to fight a series of mini-Tet Offensives with the same goal that the Viet Cong had: to win a psychological victory against their government and the U.S. that will eventually cause the former to collapse and/or the latter to withdraw for good.

    And I’m not so sure political reconciliation is the main goal of the surge per se (though it’s certainly an endstate everyone hopes for). I think it was more to create some enhanced security in and around Baghdad that would in turn buy the Iraqi government enough time to get its own military up to speed. I think Petraeus and others have concluded that if the Iraqi government is strong enough to at least survive, if not actually maintain order everywhere in the country, it might at least be able to create some semblance of security through political deals with al-Sadr and others. As long as al-Sadr knows he can’t march into Baghdad and depose the government (he’s nowhere near that powerful and he knows it), his only other option is to repeatedly annoy and embarrass the government, which he has done superbly.

  8. The goal of the surge, as stated by Dubya, Petraeus and everyone else, was to provide “breathing space” for the Iraqi government to attempt political reconciliation of the various factions by stablizing security in Baghdad. This was stated over and over again ad nauseum in the lead-up to the “Surge,” though now it rarely gets mentioned. Was that a reasonable goal? Maybe not, but thtat’s what we were sold. By those standards, the Surge failed.

  9. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the surge has failed. It was a flawed concept fromt the start. Whether the goal was “breathing space” to build up their military or breathing space for political reconciliation (and both are interconnected), the idea that a temoporary surge of an extra 20-30,000 troops could make much of a difference toward those goals is ludicrous.

  10. What if the surge had included sealing the border with Iran? There’s an (almost) low-level invasion into Iraq from Iran, but I guess nobody wants to bother to close the door.

  11. “There’s an (almost) low-level invasion into Iraq from Iran”

    So when Maliki warmly welcomed Amenidinajad recently, was that part of the “invasion”? The current Iraqi government is an Iranian ally (bordering on puppet state) for all intents and purposes; “invasion”? Hell, Maliki would invite in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to help him put down his Shiite opposition and Sunni insurgents if he could get away with it.

  12. There’s no way to effectively seal the border with Iran. It’s far too vast for their army, or even ours.

    I would actually welcome the prospect of Iraq becoming Iran’s puppet state. Seriously. Let them own the mess and be responsible for Iraq’s security. They have no more interest in seeing it torn apart than we do.

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