Monday, March 31, 2008

Basra combat ending as Iran takes charge; Maliki losing power; Bush irrelevant

After a quickly called meeting to the Iranian holy city of Qom between Iraqi leaders including Mouktada al Sadr and the commander of Iran's Qods brigades, al Sadr ordered his troops to stop fighting Nouri al Maliki's troops. The fighting in Baghdad did stop. The irrelevant American leaders are nowhere to be seen.

The battle for Basra was started without any consultation or coordination with American troops, and the resolution is occurring when the Iranians declare it is time to stop fighting. Here is the report from McClatchy News Service on what happened to cause al Sadr's Sunday statement:
The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.

There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq. [Snip]

In addition to Sadr, who is in Qom pursuing religious studies, Iraqi lawmakers met Suleimani, said Osama al Nejafi, a legislator on the parliamentary committee formed to solve the Basra crisis.

"An agreement was signed," Nejafi said, referring to Sadr. "Iran was part of the problem and an effective part of the negotiations."

Sadr issued a nine-point statement Sunday saying he would renounce anyone who carried arms against the government and government forces. The statement also asked the government to halt all raids against the Mahdi army, end detentions of militia members who had not been charged and implement the general amnesty law.

To preserve the "unity" of Iraq Sadr called for an end to "all armed manifestations in Basra and in all provinces."

The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.
So the result is that Maliki has lost a great deal of prestige just prior to regional elections, the opposite of what he wanted, while the Iranians have demonstrated they are the most important power in Iraq, notwithstanding the presence of 150,000 American troops.

Here is Juan Cole's take on what happened:
A parliamentary delegation from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's own coalition (mainly now the Da`wa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) defied him by going off to the holy seminary city of Qom in Iran and negotiating directly with Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr and with the leader of the Quds Brigades of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Qasim Sulaymani.

As a result of those parleys, Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to stand down, though I read his statement as permitting continued armed self-defense, as at Basra where the Iraqi Army is attacking them and the US is bombing them. Significantly, he calls on the Mahdi Army to stop attacking the HQs of rival political parties. That language suggests that the parties are suffering from such attacks and are worried that party infrasture is being degraded ahead of the October 1 provincial elections. The southern parties have essentially defied al-Maliki and Bush to make a separate peace.

The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr's conditions).
Juan Cole also points to reports from McClatchy that show that the cease fire has not yet taken effect in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Karbala, Salahuddin, Mosul, or Kirkuk.

The lessons so far? Iraq is a mess, in spite of the surge, as it has been for the five years since Bush invaded that nation. Al Maliki, the leader Bush supports, is losing power, as al Sadr is gaining it. Iran dominates the entire Iraqi landscape too a degree that would have been impossible without the American invasion and the removal of Saddam.

Bush and Gen Petreaus are nowhere to be seen and are having no significant effect on the current violence in Iraq, although American soldiers have been sucked into the fighting.

The sole remaining purpose for American troops in Iraq now is to support the Maliki government as Maliki loses power; and to continue with a presence in Iraq until after the next American President (Democratic) is sworn in next January. This is intended by bush to give the Republicans the political talking point they will aim at the Democrats: "We Republicans didn't pull out of Iraq! You pulled out of Iraq so you Democrats lost Iraq!" Republican sound bytes will never address the fact that there is nothing there for Americans to win. We're just providing combat troops and aircraft to the maw with no prospect of any gain.

That's that state of disaster that is Bush's War in Iraq today.

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