Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Battle for Basra - II

The New York Times points out that the Battle for Basra between al Maliki's best division (the 14th) and the Mahdi Army (Shiite militia) is not going well for Maliki's troops.
At a news briefing in Basra on Saturday, Iraq’s defense minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi , conceded that the assault had not gone according to expectations. “We were surprised by a very strong resistance that made us change our plans,” he said.
The assault on Basra appears to have been poorly planned and conducted with too few troops. It is not surprising that it is not going well. Cernig at the NewsHoggers writes:
"Maliki's assault on the Sadrists, painted as a general assault on "criminal militias", but somehow managing to leave his SIIC/Badr Brigade allies well alone, is failing badly. Everywhere, the Mahdi Army are holding their own territories and even expanding the fight into new towns and neighbourhoods. Given the unreasonably small force with which Maliki launched his assault, and the estimated 60% penetration of the region's police by the Mahdi Army which has led to widespread desertions, Fester and I are convinced that Maliki had a good idea this would happen. His main purpose in mounting the assault was to ensnare US occupation forces into stepping into the lead, battling Sadr's forces for him and for his SIIC allies. {Snip]

Maliki is now in a position whereby he might - might - be able to win or stalemate the battle with American assistance, but there's no way he can win the political war he's started. He will either fall or be forced to painfully backtrack to negotiate a settlement which will favor Sadr more than it does himself. He's toast and Sadr, despite the many op-eds written over the last four years claiming the opposite, very much isn't."
Cernig's entire post is well worth reading. He also points to the ongoing war in Mosul that has lasted for months now, the flair-ups of violence in Sadr City in Baghdad as a result of this attack on the Mahdi Army in Basra, and the reports that the Turks are shelling the Kurds in Northern Iraq (if such an entity can still be said to exist.)

Then we get the report from Juan Cole:
The Times of Baghdad reports in Arabic that clashes continued on Friday between Iraqi government forces and the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and the provinces of the middle Euphrates and the south, causing hundreds of casualties, including among women, children and the elderly. The fighting also did damage to Iraq's infrastructure, as well as to oil facilities and pipelines, damage that might run into the billions of dollars.

The US got drawn into the fighting on Friday. US planes bombed alleged Mahdi Army positions both in Basra and in Sadr City in Baghdad (as well as in Kadhimiya). Kadhimiya is a major Shiite shrine neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, and the spectacle of the US bombing it is very unlikely to win Washington any friends among Iraqi Shiites.

Despite the US intervention, government troops were unable to pierce Mahdi Army defenses or over-run their positions.

Al-Zaman says that the police force in Basra suffered numerous mutinies and instances of insubordination, with policemen refusing to fire on the Mahdi Army. The government response was to undertake a widespread purge of disloyal elements.

[Hmm. I wonder where fired policemen with combat training and guns could find another job . . . Maybe with the Mahdi Army?]

The Mahdi Army opened a number of new fronts in the fighting, in Nasiriya, Karbala, Hilla, and Diwaniya, as a means of reducing the pressure on its fighters in the holy city of Karbala. Local medical officials reported 36 dead in the fighting in Nasiriya.

The Mahdi Army used its position near Nasiriya to attack government troops attempting to go south to join the effort in Basra, and is said to have inflicted substantial casualties on them.

In Baghdad, Mahdi Army fighters clashed with government forces in 31 districts.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a decisive military victory and rejected calls by southern tribal sheikhs and a large number of Shiite ayatollahs for him to engage in dialogue and negotiation in order to reach a ceasefire and to save civilians who are threatened with a humanitarian catastrophe from shortages of water and food, as well as lack of medical care.
al Maliki seems to have staked his political future on the outcome of this battle with Mouktada al Sadr's forces, and it may well be that he timed it so that the American forces had to intervene on his side.

Since Gen Petreaus has been negotiating with Mouktada al Sadr, this could be Maliki's effort to force Petreaus and the American forces to support him in his internecine political battles for control of Iraq. There are indications that Dick Cheney may have known this was coming, and is playing some more of his behind the scenes politics both in the U.S. and in Iraq. Is this going to be used by Cheney and the Republicans to ratchet up the difficulties in Iraq so that the incoming Democratic President will be forced to either send in more troops to pacify that nation or remove American troops from the scene and thus be politically vulnerable in American politics to the cry of "You lost Iraq"? This goes back to my theory that the Republicans are using the Occupation of Iraq as a kubuki theater play to manipulate American politics, so that what really happens in Iraq is of almost no interest to the Republicans. All that matters is how they can spin it for American voters.

Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization, and the term "Byzantine politics" was invented to describe the way politics in Turkey and the Tigris-Euphrates valley works. The Republicans thought they could predict what would happen there as a result of "Bush's War" and they found disaster instead.

American troops will not be successful in Iraq. They will be co opted by one side or the other in their internecine wars and used to fight for things that have nothing to do with America's interests.

America should have learned that by now. The Bush administration is too stupid and proud of their conservative ideology to become aware of reality.

No comments: