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28 March 2008

The Long, Hard Slog Slogs On

The current Iraqi-led offensive against militias in Basra has stalled, and appears to be failing. Prime Minister Maliki billed the offensive as an effort to disarm criminal elements, but appears to be aimed primarily at the government's main opposition, the Mahdi militia of firebrand Muqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's forces are particularly strong in the southern oil city of Basra, where British forces have been stationed but had withdrawn to bases last summer. However, the offensive only appears to be strengthening the Mahdi army's position. From the NYT article linked above:
Estimates by Basra residents of how much of the city is in the Mahdi Army’s hands ranged from 50 percent to much higher. “We have soldiers in Basra, and they are doing fine,” said a militiaman in Baghdad named Abu Ali, who identified himself as a division commander for the Mahdi Army. “They are in full control.”
Iraqi Army forces appear incapable of making any headway in the city.
Mahdi checkpoints were highly visible, often consisting of at least half a dozen fighters armed with weapons like rocket-propelled grenades. “The gunmen are not allowing any military convoys to pass near the area,” said Ameen Ali Sakran, a Hayaniya resident. Alaa Abdul Samad, an educational supervisor who lives in the Mahdi-controlled Kibla neighborhood a couple of miles south of the city center, said he had not seen any official army vehicles during the assault. “The gunmen have controlled even the Kibla police station and taken all its weapons,” Mr. Samad said. “The area is now in the hands of the militias, and there is no army except some of the helicopters that fly around.”
So what happened? When the British decided to pull their troops from the streets of Basra last summer, the new Iraqi commander in the region, General Mohan al-Furayji, got a lot of credit for reducing the level of violence in the city (at least from the British - his name is seldom mentioned in the American press). The British are quite high on him, which appears to really annoy many in the governing coalition. According to the UK's Independent:
It is difficult to overstate the faith placed in Lt-Gen Mohan by the British. His name has become almost a mantra among officials, who have been heard to say "General Mohan will sort this out" or "General Mohan has decided this." Lt-Gen Mohan was appointed on a rolling three-month contract last July. According to Iraqi sources, the so-called "Iranian faction" surrounding Prime Minister Maliki would not give an 18-month contract to an avowedly secular commander in Basra. His current tenure runs out on 19 April. Mr Maliki is under pressure from those opposed to Lt-Gen Mohan to recall him to Baghdad at that time.
Being a competent commander, or even just being perceived as such, is not a way to win friends inside the Iraqi power structure. The most powerful party in the Iraqi government is the Islamic Supreme Council, which has its own militia, the Badr Bridade.
The Supreme Council’s armed wing, the Badr Organization, is one of the most powerful rivals of the Mahdi Army in Basra, where Shiite militias have been fighting among themselves for years to control neighborhoods, oil revenues, electricity access, the ports and even the local universities.
General Mohan's plan to spend a few months preparing for the offensive was undercut by the ruling council.
According to senior sources, the offensive was launched three months before Lt-Gen Mohan had wanted it to, and despite him warning that going in too early would result in the fighting spreading to other Shia strongholds. It was not the first time the general had been at odds with the Baghdad government. Mr Maliki had considered removing him from his post four weeks ago, but desisted after lobbying by the British.
Had General Mohan's plan succeeded, the resulting recognition would have significantly raised his profile and threatened the Islamists in the governing coalition. Instead, we have this hastily drawn up offensive being "personally directed" by Prime Minister Maliki, that will most likely fail, break the cease fire, and require direct involvement of American troops to pacify the country (i.e., defeat the Mahdi army) and preserve the Maliki government while bolstering the position of the Iranian-backed Islamists in the government. Nice to see the most powerful military force the world has ever seen being used so cleverly by a gang of conniving Mohammedans.

Think about how confusing this all is. We have one Shiite faction (the Mahdi Army) being led by a Muslim extremist named Al-Sadr who is opposed by another Shiite (and Iranian-allied) faction called the Badr Brigade who supports the Shiite Prime Minister Al-Maliki who is attempting to marginalize a secular Shiite general named Mohan Al-something or other. In the meantime, in the north and west the U.S. is making deals and alliances with all kinds of Sunni tribal chiefs who are in a power struggle with elements of Al-Qaeda. With all these names sounding similar to American ears*, and the USG going on about Iran supplying the militias, it's awfully hard to keep track. Now of course there's not the remotest chance that Joe Sixpack has any patience to make any sense of this. But think about Washington - all the people in the White House working on policy, the policy makers in the Pentagon and State, the aides to Senators on the Foreign Relations committees and the advisers to the presidential candidates - how many people are we talking about involved in setting policy and making decisions - 1,000? How many of them are on top of all this - maybe 10? 5? 2?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is this Sadr asshole still breathing? Why isn't he rotting in a ditch or being scraped off some walls by his after being hit with a JDAM? We are not serious and our enemies know it.

March 28, 2008 12:08 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

It's hard to get "serious" when it's unclear who the good guys and the bad guys are. Sadr may well be relatively moderate compared to the Islamists in the government. It's seems pretty hopeless trying to wend our way around these internecine struggles. I wonder if the best thing we could do is just give the Sunni factions enough arms to survive and get the hell out, letting the Shiite groups sort the mess out themselves.

March 28, 2008 12:28 PM  
Blogger gcochran said...

When you say 'enemy', it is probably worth marking the difference between people who oppose Administration policy and those who oppose American interests. The two definitions have nothing in common.

Al-Sadr would like US forces to leave Iraq, as do the majority of Iraqis, but then so would the majority of citizens of the United States.

As for how many key US decision makers have a clear idea of the factions in Iraq, their strength, loyalty, tactical goals, long-term aspirations, etc: well no one, of course. They don't know and they can't be made to know. They have flunkys who tell them what they want to hear and it's unlikely that they remember much of that.

March 28, 2008 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barack will know what to do: just pass gun control laws. Look what they have done for D.C.


BTW----Democrats create "messes" of their own accord, but when given a "real mess" by Republicans........can anyone expect an outcome that will not be very expensive and very ugly?

March 28, 2008 3:54 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

You know at this point I think I'd like to see Barack win just to see how the whole withdraw-from-Iraq thing goes down. How will he do it, what kind of hysterics will all the usual suspects throw at him, who will take charge in Iraq when we're gone. I fear it will be just some boring 24-month draw down followed by another 4 years of aimless chaos - then we'll have elected a sanctimonious, crypto-race-hustler for nothing.

March 28, 2008 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think our leaders know what to do about Iraq. According to the outgoing U.S. Centcom commander, the current U.S. ground forces commander is nothing but an "ass kissing chickenshit". So I doubt Petraeus even has a clue.

I suspect at this point the Bush Administration and their Military-Defense-Industrial complex cronies just want this thing to drag on a few more years at least so that they can make maximum profit from this fiasco. Isn't it pretty obvious by now that the whole War on Terror is just a wonderful opportunity for defense interests to make the kind of financial windfall they've missed dearly since the Cold War ended?

March 28, 2008 7:02 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Gen. Mohan sounds like the Imperial general in the second volume of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. He's the first competent, honest general the Empire has had in decades, so he reconquers lots of lost planets. So, the Emperor has him executed, because he's a threat to take the throne himself.

March 30, 2008 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, sounds like Mohan is competent - hard to tell if he's any better than that, but the Brits clearly felt him competent and have been supporting him. Maliki's sudden involvement, traveling down south to "personally direct the offensive" and effectively sabotaging it is awfully suspicious - they sure seem to fear that if he succeeds, Mohan could become popular even among the Americans. So far the U.S. press doesn't know he exists and looks like it's going to stay that way.

March 30, 2008 4:05 PM  

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