You noted to arbogast: "Maliki may have started this on his own trying to strengthen his own hand for the Autumn elections." Methinks there is a lot to this line of thought. Maliki, along with all the other Iraqi "patriots" in the Green Zone, must read the tea leaves as well as we do back home. Irrespective of November’s winner, the US cannot sustain its current level of commitment in "Mess"-opatamia. Its army is breaking down and wheels will really begin to fly off by the end of 2008. So, there is no time like the present (and maximum strength) to drag your partner’s army into an effort to knock off your chief rival and *his* army. No doubt we were and remain surprised by the obvious — Maliki acting in his own self-interest — but, we are yet again surprised by Iraqi actions, and probably not for the last time… Maliki knows he’ll be left to the mobs in the near future. While holding off the Sunni and Kurds may be possible with the support of his co-religionists, he cannot do so while simultaneously fighting Sadrists (nationalists) for control of the key prizes (Baghdad, Basra and southern oil). As much as we vastly underestimate White House stupidity and arrogance, I think we also vastly underestimate Sadr’s game, his power among the dispossessed Shi’i, and his appeal to Arab Shi’ism (vice Persian). I’m sure the Iranians support both sides of the Shi’i split in Iraq – mainly to keep their most feared foe divided and non-threatening. But, when push comes to shove, I think they will cut off Sadr’s support in favor of their buddies in the SCIRI/Badr/Dawa groups. (Then again, in a country like Iraq were hundreds of thousands of small arms, light weapons and explosives are "missing," how decisive will the lack of direct Iranian support be?) Its an intriguing four way game: 1- Sadr wants all foreign occupiers out and Iraq for (Shi’i) Iraqis, 2- Iran wants quiet and influence on its western border, strategic depth from the hated Sunni and Jewish enemies and a bridge to their long lost cousins in Southern Lebanon (tweaking America along the way is like whipped cream on the sundae), 3- US desperate to extricate itself from their Iraqi tar-baby while simultaneously weakening the ascendant Persians (whose rise is fueled by continued its own ground presence and blinkered search for “victory” in the hunt for global jihadists!), and 4-Maliki, whose neck is stretched if/when he’s left to his own devices by this American (overlord) protectors. No wonder the British want out so bad. It’s a race for the last lifeboat and those left on deck face some mighty cold waters…
There is no evidence that the US is “desperate to extricate itself from their Iraqi tar-baby.” On the contrary, there is ample evidence of US permanency in Iraq. A divided Iraq in fact promotes that imperative, which is why the current Basra conflict has been welcomed by the US.
maybe the conflict is about this scenario
tactical goal – attempt to strengthen malaki government power in basra
british troops are leaving basra in near future
us & government want to start process of negotiating oil contracts for basra area
us cannot leave basra undefended so us troops will replace the british
they will try to follow the british stategy – do not actively patrol – be a looming presence –
review and approval of the plan for this action was the purpose of recent cheney visit to iraq
sadr has a strong presence in basra
for the us and iran sadr is least favored shia political force
us will not negotiate with him
also regional elections are expected – october date has not been postponed
regional election prospect for malaki government supporters is poor
effort to reduce sadr power in basra has to take place now, before summer heat and before regional elections
iran will not see us troop presence as a threat – like us they are not fond of sadr
iraqi governemnt forces do not have resolve to “win the fight”
us will assist to no avail
as usual sadr forces will fight and then make a strategic retreat
us will replace british in basra
us power stretched to cover another potentially troublesome area
sadr will not oppose it, and sadr will retain power in basra and “threat” to us supply line
It a high honor to have my humble comment upgraded to the front of your blog – for that, thank you.
But my, how quickly the worms turn! Already, Sadr has trumped the would-be triumph of Maliki and his security forces, as well as claimed (once again) his place as a true Iraqi patriot. His conditions? A basic truce and return to status quo ante according to BBC and other reporting from the region. And, if the reporting of the rest of the 9 conditions is true, Sadr likely carved out an even larger role for himself on Iraq’s political stage. I’d like to say I’m shocked at the speed of Maliki’s collapse – was it only 4 days ago he strode into Basra claiming to “liberate” it from the forces of evil Shi’is and criminals? My oh my!
Despite the hysteria of many on the Jacobin side, there is no doubt this is a Sadr triumph. As his folks said earlier, surviving is winning and even “if we die… we win.” And given Maliki’s apparent acceptance of Sadr’s conditions (again, see BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7321464.stm), how can any Shi’i in Iraq view this week’s events as anything but weakness and failure on the part of Maliki and his “Green Zone Squad.”??
Even in victory, Sadr keeps reaching out to Iraqis on the basis of anti-occupation and resistance. Here is one translation of his statement:
“Based upon our responsibilities in law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraqi blood and for the protection of the reputation of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of land, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraqi brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraqi people to measure up to their responsibility and their consciousness of law in sparing blood and preserving peace in Iraq, and its stability and its independence.
The following is resolved:
(1) Ending armed manifestations in the governate of Basra and all the other governates
(2) Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests
(3) Demand on the government to apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who had not had charges confirmed against them, and particularly prisoners belonging to the Sadrist trend
(4) We announce that we will renounce those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or [political] party offices
(5) Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge those who commit crimes, according to legal [qanuniya] process
(6) We affirm that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons
(7) Efforts for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out on account of security incidents
(8) We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security actions
(9) Working for the realization of development and services projects in all governates”
Of note are Sadr’s accepted conditions to grant general amnesty and refrain from arresting Sadrists – which was one of the reasons for the Green Zone bombardment throughout the last seven days.
Everyone (the US, Iraqi stooge government, Iranians, and regional actors) continue to underestimate this lad at their own peril. A truly smart empire would begin to find ways to coop this leader – and right quickly. Alas, the US is not a very good empire – at least when it comes to the naked exercise of raw power.
As to Don Bacon’s correct observation regarding the permanence of American presence in Iraq, I agree with you. Our current Administration has absolutely no plan besides a permanent Iraqi presence – mainly because they have yet to disown their flatheaded philosophy. However, its my belief that reality-based national security professionals (not to mention an overwhelming majority of US citizens) are indeed trying hard find a way to extricate the nation from the Iraqi tar baby. Perhaps it is too late.
jamzo: I think you nailed it very well, bravo. Does anyone on here have the current force-levels in the south stored? How many are deemed necessary to hold the south for 8 years?
To get down to nuts and bolts, some open source background on Basra circa July 2007:
“Basra, the second largest and the richest city in Iraq, is at the brink of a major economic and political meltdown. Unless Baghdad succeeds in reaching a compromise over the country’s governmental apparatus (especially over the issue of federalism), the southern city may become the greatest threat to the future of post-Baathist Iraq. Such a threat lies mainly in a struggle for power between Shiite militias and tribal forces who compete for control over oil resources, territorial domination and public capital (hospitals and schools), which are all leading to an erosion of security in a city that is the source of Iraq’s economic life…
At the center of Basra’s meltdown lies the ongoing conflict between different Shiite factions, mainly vying for control over Basra’s energy industry and oil smuggling. Domination over local governance through confrontation, and at times violence, has become the routine method of conducting politics in a city that appears to be breaking apart into territories governed by different militias. Such political conflict, however, also includes competing visions of post-Baathist Iraq, as each Shiite militia advocates a particular ideological agenda (regionalist, nationalist and sectarian), while seeking popular support from various segments of the Shiite community in Basra and other southern cities.”
and so on from a useful analysis at Jamestown Foundation:
Sadrist nationalism is the most relevant threat to our imperial occupation of Iraq for administering its oil.
Provincial elections had to be compelled by Cheney due to the sunni underepresentation problem, but these will give Sadr his “chance”.
We know that our occupation likely cannot continue if Sadrist political forces increase. Thus we must intervene to aid his shi’a opponents in the South and ensure they win the elections again.
So that means that we can’t allow Maliki to accept any “cease fires”.
We are now perverting and meddling in Iraq elections to continue our occupation, while trumpeting our supposed “support” for the “newest democracy”. Pretty brazen stuff, thank God for the MSM propaganda institutions which the corporate Right has put in place in America!
If the BBC and a parallel report in the New York Times by their Baghdad Bureau chief are accurate, what then does this all come out to? What does it say about the surge, reconciliation, the present government, Sistani, and what are the Sunnis thinking?
This swirl of recent events and fighting in Basra, and elsewhere, raises the question: who is in “Mookie” al-Sadr’s “kitchen cabinet”?
His sense of timing and tactics is getting better, and doubtless he is getting some good advice. I suspect that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is a member, keeping in mind that al-Sistani has continually refused to meet with U.S. representatives.
Upon reading that Maliki had launched this Basra expedition on his own, I felt it was not true, with U.S. “advisers” and “consultants” in all departments of the so-called Iraqi government. I agree with jamzo that this Basra initiative may have been on vice president Cheney’s agenda when he was recently in the Middle East.
Most disturbing is the apparent fact that KBR is building out big facilities for U.S. troops in Basra, as noted in the previous post, “More on Basra, South Iraq and Iran”. This is more evidence of the planned permanent occupation of Iraq.
As I have said numerous times, the primary objective of the war on Iraq was to prevent an independent, nationalist goverment or leader from existing in that country. Additional reasons for the invasion were for the U.S., Britain, and Israel to control the oil, water, and financial structure of Iraq, and to suppress some of the moral and business principles of Muslim life.
Right now, the only public face promoting Iraqi national unity and some sense of nationalism is al-Sadr. That is why the U.S. gangster foreign policy is seeking to “contain” him.
As noted by Serving Patriot in his comment above, al-Sadr has made another move today (Sunday) to pull back his militia and try to redefine the debate.
“Mookie” is starting to display the moves and dodging skills of the great (U.S.) football running back Gale Sayers.
It seems that Sadr has a Black Belt in Arab Judo–“Judo know who you’re messing with, Holmes!” My own opinion is that Maliki misread Sadr’s lengthy armistice as a sign of weakness instead of restraint. They did not count on such fierce resistance? Who did they think they were taking on, Campfire Girls?
Thanks for two most illuminating posts.
One query. It certainly seems plausible that the Iranians would prefer to see SCIRI/Badr/Dawa marginalize Sadr. But would it make sense for them to cut off support for Sadr, unless they were convinced that doing so can ensure the victory of their more reliable clients? For them to commit themselves wholeheartedly to an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Sadr might be a peculiarly dumb move.
The Iranians’ best strategy, surely, is to keep options open, unless a situation materialises where there is a real prospect of marginalising Sadr. In the light of the complete mess that Maliki seems to have made of his attack on the Sadrists, it seems increasingly unlikely that such a moment will come.
It is sometimes suggested that Sadr is sufficiently ‘nationalist’ for him to be able to patch up relations with the Sunni. I wonder this is so, particularly given the apparent role of Sadr’s people in atrocities against the Sunni. And if it is not, provided that the Iranians do not burn their bridges with Sadr, even if he decisively defeated their clients, would not the vulnerabilities of any Shiite government in Baghdad push him into a substantial measure of dependence on them, whether he liked it or not?
tails iran wins, heads iran wins.
It was wonderfully illustrative seeing the president of Iran walking Iraq’s streets in the open, while ours, only in the dead of night in the green zone.
Sadr has played his hand masterfully, which should have been expected by how he pursued political goals previously. Meanwhile Maliki and the current US administration live in a bubble.
Most disturbing is the apparent fact that KBR is building out big facilities for U.S. troops in Basra…This is more evidence of the planned permanent occupation of Iraq.
I never underestimate the ability of Uncle Sam to spend huge amounts of cash to build what appear to be permanent installations only to abandon them soon after.
I think that the Doctors of Religion in Najaf and Qum, in addition to the Iranian government, will do all they can to paper over intra-Shia difference; at least until US has withdrawn her forces from Iraq.
I also think that due to ties if blood Mr Sadr will be protected by people of influence and power in Najaf and Qum.
The intra-Shia differences in Iraq, like everything else there, will take decades to resolve; I should think.
The current Iraq state will have no local firend except Iran; neither the Kurds nor the Shia re going to permit a restoration of Sunni Power in Iraq.
And quite frankly, what has the Sunni power in Iraq achieved over 50 years; coup after bloody coup, war after bloody war, succeeding in grinding the most advanced Arab country into a wreck.