The Newshoggers has now closed.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Posted by Cernig at 4/01/2008 11:12:00 AM
Monday, March 31, 2008
Posted by Cernig at 3/31/2008 12:01:00 PM
The parallels between this action and the Israeli’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon to take on Hezbollah are striking. In both cases, the party that initiated the escalation into high level conflict inflicted substantial damage on their adversary and were able to claim military victory. At the same time, neither came anywhere close to achieving their political objectives. In assessing the 2006 action, I concluded that Israel therefore lost. Absent substantial new information, I’d have to conclude that Maliki was the loser here for the same reason.While Kevin Drum, in two posts, draws attention to the Iranian connection. Following reports that senior Iraqi government negotiators were asking the Iranians to intercede with Sadr on Maliki's behalf even as Maliki was spouting his "never retreat, never surrender" rhetoric and claiming that the Sadrists were worse than Al Qaeda, Kevin writes:
the head of the Badr Organization sure does seem to have, um, remarkably speedy access to the head of Iran's Qods force, doesn't he? It's something to ponder the next time some Bush administration or U.S. Army spokesperson casually maligns Sadr as "Iranian backed" but maintains a discreet silence when it comes to the far deeper and longer-lived Iranian ties of Maliki's own Dawa/Badr alliance. Just sayin'.and also gives his opinion on the winners and losers.
it was Maliki who went to Sadr, not the other way around, and that he did it several days ago. What's more, it was Sadr who laid down the conditions for an end to the violence, not Maliki. This is pretty plainly at odds with the theory that Sadr's statement was a show of weakness, a sign that he was taking more damage than he could stand and was desperate for a truce.But looking beyond Basra today, it's Anthony Cordesman that provides the "must read".
Much of the reporting on this fighting in Basra and Baghdad — which was initiated by the Iraqi government — assumes that Mr. Sadr and his militia are the bad guys who are out to spoil the peace, and that the government forces are the legitimate side trying to bring order. This is a dangerous oversimplification, and one that the United States needs to be far more careful about endorsing.He calls the situation "a civil war Iraq can't win" - and if the Iraqi people, as opposed to the power-players, won't be winners then you can be pretty certain that the US occupation isn't going to come out ahead either.
So far, it appears that the widespread open Shiite civil war that it looked like Maliki had begun is again on the backburner - for now - but Cordesman's analysis of the situation still provides the underlying warp and weft going forward into regional elections. That underlying power struggle will find its expression somehow, somewhere. My guess is that, having tried and failed to harness the power of the State to impose their own rule, the Dawa and SIIC parties will now turn to militias and ballot-rigging to try to salvage their positions before the regional elections. That in itself might well re-ignite violence on a larger scale but what is certain is that there's no defusing this slow-burn civil war.
Cordesman also notes the other two main currents in Iraq which could also flare into violence:
One is that the Sunni tribes and militias that have been cooperating with the Americans could turn against the central government. The second is that the struggle among Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups to control territory in the north could lead to fighting in Kirkuk, Mosul or other areas.and while everyone has had their attention on the South, it's worth noting Walter Pincus in the WaPo who has kept watching the Sunni "Awakening" and writes that the US is increasingly uncertain about the future of the "Sons of Iraq".
At a Pentagon briefing last Wednesday, the commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Diyala province, Col. Jon Lehr, told reporters via videoconference that the Sons of Iraq "are not a permanent security solution," although, he added, "they have been an integral part of our strategy."That divide isn't getting much attention in op-ed columns - just as trhe Shiite divide didn't until it exploded in open conflict. And US officers seem divided on the future of the Awakening going forward too.
The question now is what happens to the Sons of Iraq in the long run. "They were a means to an end," Lehr said. "So what we're attempting to do right now is find employment for the men." He said some could be absorbed into Iraqi security forces -- primarily the police and some in the army.Does anyone actually believe that the leaders of the "political" and "tribal" currents of the Awakening will regard having their forces cut to a fifth of their present strength, while the rest become street-sweepers and mechanics, will be in their own interests - especially given the evidence this last week that Maliki and his allies are quite willing to co-opt State military force to attempt to further theirs? Well, maybe some of the US cheerleading set do - but the rest of us should be looking for yet another explosive fracture at some stage in the future.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
That Mrs. Clinton’s campaign kept insisting her Bosnia tale was the truth two days after The Post exposed it as utter fiction also shows the political perils of 20th-century analog arrogance in a digital age. Incredible as it seems, the professionals around Mrs. Clinton — though surely knowing her story was false — thought she could tough it out. They ignored the likelihood that a television network would broadcast the inevitable press pool video of a first lady’s foreign trip — as the CBS Evening News did on Monday night — and that this smoking gun would then become an unstoppable assault weapon once harnessed to the Web.I've been thinking about this myself for a while now. The campaign has done an incredibly poor job of employing the internet to further their narrative and seems to fail to recognize its power. I don't get why. As far as I know, Peter Daou is still their internet guru and surely he's one of the best. A really savvy player who understands the rules of the game well. Their internet outreach should be stellar. It's not.
All I can think is that Clinton and Penn and the rest of the 'leading' advisors of the campaign are ignoring his advice. There's really no other explanation.
A weary Mr. West conceded that the process had flaws. In his convention, a computer system went down, a woman fainted and it was discovered that the delegates from some precincts were never recorded into the system.What a sad statement on the state of our electoral system that it's not prepared to deal with actual participation by the voters. The system is geared to voter apathy and power-brokered nominations. Revamping the primary system should surely be high on the list of priorities on the DNC's agenda come mid-November so we don't have to live through this hellish chaos again.
And in another stray thought, didn't Bill Clinton say that unless Hillary won Texas with a big blowout victory, that her candidacy would end? I'm not suggesting she necessarily do so, just recalling the rhetoric.
“My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said at a news conference in a high school gymnasium here. “Her name is on the ballot. She is a fierce and formidable opponent, and she obviously believes she would make the best nominee and the best president.”I hope the overheated partisans on both sides will take his lead and similarly take a hard left onto the high road in the days to come.
The list of issues to hash out is endless, and doing so in polite political combat could produce a stronger Democratic candidate for the fall and a better-informed electorate.I'd be happy to see the race go on but only if the Democrats run by highlighting their differences with McCain instead of each other. The electorate needs to see how they will run against the Republican and an extended race under those circumstances would keep the attention on the issues and the Democrats but would leave both candidates strong for the general, no matter which one prevails. If they can't find a way to do that however, somebody has to find a way to end this quickly before we end up saluting President McCain in January.
Mr Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.I wonder if "cat herder" Sistani's managed to pull of the improbable again, or if this is entirely a manouver of Sadr's own making?
Some will claim this is a Sadr climb-down. I doubt he cares much what the American Right thinks, though. For others, following on from a reported snub of the guy Maliki sent to try to get Sadr to negotiate on Maliki's terms, and his statement to his followers not to hand over their weapons, this will be seen as Sadr trying to claim the moral high ground while still retaining the ability to start up hostilities again if needed. Obviously, the Mahdi Army's stand-down is conditional on Maliki standing down his own forces too. Since Sadr was always the one saying they should ceasefire and talk, while Maliki's been strong on the "never give up, never surrender" rhetoric the last five days, it's also obvious who Iraqis will think "won" if Maliki complies.
Update It looks like Maliki will indeed comply.
Spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali Al-Dabbag, in a press release, said the government welcomed this call which would serve to avoid bloodshed, adding that this reflected Al-Sadr's keenness for maintaining the safety of civilians. Security is the responsibility of the government, and the government does not target a certain movement or faction, he stressed, hoping that the Sadrist bloc would support the government.The BBC report above is a little unclear on Sadr's terms too - what he's calling for is that the government stop arrest raids against his followers, release those in detention and grant them an amnesty.
What the Western media are less keen, seemingly, to report are Sadr's other demands. The Roads To Iraq website writes:
After the killing of Maliki’s security adviser “Hassan Al-Kadhmi” by Mahdi Army in Basra today and according to Wasat Online, the Iraqi government and the Sadrists reached an agreement of nine points...the newspaper says that among the points is the withdrawal of the Iraqi and American forces from Basra, stop the raids against the Sadrists, Maliki to return to Baghdad in 48 hour followed by the ministers [Defense and Interior]. [Emphasis Mine - C]FOX News only notes that "The Iraqi government lauded al-Sadr's orders, saying 'This is a positive statement,' according to Reuters." If this is a positive statement then Maliki has indeed climbed all the way back down, with five out of nine points covering a humiliating withdrawal back to Baghdad with his tail between his legs.
Update 2 Via 'Axt113' in comments - Hazem al-Araji, an aide to Sadr, told reporters in Najaf that "We confirm that there were guarantees taken from the Iraqi government to fulfill all the points in this statement." Even the one about Maliki leaving Basra, trailed by his Ministers? Wow.
Maliki chased out of Basra by Mookie - who'd a thunk it?
Update 3 Oh look, the cheerleading US Right wants to try painting this as Sadr suing for peace rather than facing extinction. To them, it's Maliki's victory over criminal militias. Of course, they aren't mentioning the amnesty/release, the end of attacks by government and US forces even though the Mahdi militia retains its guns (and other militias weren't touched at all), or Maliki's ignominious banishment to Baghdad. "Imagine my surprise..."
Update 4 There are reports that the Iraqi government is promising to fight on in Basra:
IRAQI troops will continue their six-day-old military operation in Basra despite a call by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for his followers to stop fighting, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said overnight.It remains to be seen whether they will actually do so, or whether they will observe the reported 48 hour withdrawal timeline after clobbering a couple of local minor gangs, or recalcitrant Sadrists who might defy Muqtada, to save face. Certainly, they expect there to be no more violence in Baghdad by Monday, as they've announced that they'll lift the capital's curfew then after just yesterday saying it would continue indefinitely. Let's be clear, though, if they attack the mainstream Mahdi Army again then Sadr's offered deal would be off and the fighting would flare up anew. That fighting would necessarily mean even heavier US involvement.
Steve Soto explains the dynamics of that part of Sadr's offer.
Having made his point that the Mahdi Army could fight the Iraqi security forces to a draw while encouraging a united front among Shiites and Sunnis against the American occupation, Muqtada al-Sadr pivoted today and asked his forces to suspend military operations in Basra and all other provinces in order to preserve Iraqi unity. His commanders are apparently still allowed to self-defend themselves and their forces, and the order comes after al-Sadr's forces drove the government from a TV station in Basra.I'm seeing a lot of talk about "victors don't make offers" on Rightwing blogs. But they do if they see a clear way to make a political and electoral killing thereby.
“With this statement, Sayyed Moktada al-Sadr proved that he is a good politician, working for the sake of Iraq,” said Mahmoud al-Mashadani, the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and a senior Sunni politician.War is simply an extension of politics, as Von Clauswitch explained. They might try turning it the other way. Victors don't accept a demand to quit the field of their victory within 48 hours, releasing their prisoners as they go.
Update 5 Badger at Missing Links has a translation of Sadr's statement and I've been too hasty in accepting Roads To Iraq's version by the looks of it.
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.I've made too much of the "out of Basra in 48 hours" claim by trusting Roads To Iraq, unless it's part of the understanding but not Sadr's statement. Still, the statement is clear that Sadr expects Maliki to stand down - an "Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests" - and grant amnesty to all Mahdi Army detainees, otherwise the deal is off. Badger, who is a Sadrist by admission, writes that "He gives up nothing: no weapons, no people, no territory. He's won an important round." Reports in the US press also have it that a team of senior Iraqi government types journeyed to Iran to meet Sadr to negotiate - not the actions of a government determined to wipe out a group which is a "greater threat than Al Qaeda". Badger appears to think Maliki may have come under pressure from the US to cut a deal for stability. That's certainly possible, despite Bush's rhetoric of backing Maliki 100%.
The U.S. military raised its profile in Basra still further, providing protection for installations including the palace where al-Maliki is housed, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.This, mind you, in the middle of his most trusted and battle-ready division of troops.
The paragraphs of this McClatchy report that go before this remarkable admission about a puppet ruler and his unreliable army are hardly less troublesome.
After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil-rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al-Sadr, on Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the anti-American cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.The Dawa party has never had a major militia of its own, relying instead upon the Badr Brigades of its SCIRI ally, who make up the bulk of recruits to the 14th Army Division Maliki led into Basra. That it has apparently decided it now needs one says as little about Maliki's stability in power as his sending a negotiating emmisary to the Sadrists at the same time as he's publicly claiming there will be no negotiation and no backing down.
The circumstances in which the negotiations with al-Sadr took place suggested the government is no longer able to dictate the terms of an agreement with al-Sadr but now must seek a deal. Gen. Hussein al-Assadi, a Baghdad-based commander, traveled to Najaf to call on the head of al-Sadr's political bureau there, Lewaa Smaisam.So much for the Surge. Baghdad's curfew is extended until further notice. Much of Basra - where US special forces are also now involved directly in the fighting - remains in the hands of Sadr's Mahdi militiamen.
The United States confirmed on Sunday that US special forces units were operating alongside Iraqi government troops in Basra, where the government is battling militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.Local Sadrist and Basra police (also likely Sadrist) sources are saying many of the casualties in this and other air strikes are civilians, of course. The US has played this game before, always claiming every dead body as a confirmed insurgent and every arrested one as a suspected insurgent. But the description for not having sufficient boots on the ground to take on a couple of hundred militiamen in a city of over two million, and thus relying on air power and artillery, is always going to be "collateral damage". Iraqi TV stations are describing dead civilians in this and other strikes as "martyrs".
Meanwhile, the British have confined themselves to a checkpoint outside the city and one artillery strike in supprt of Maliki's forces.
"We've had ground forces outside the wire assisting Iraqi forces. There are no British ground forces inside the city of Basra," spokesman Major Tom Holloway said by telephone. "As yet there is no intent to push British armour into the city."The British military have worked out faster than the US that Maliki's politically-motivated offensive is designed to drag the occupying powers into providing continuing bodyguarding for his government and his own ass.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators.That failure is partly incompetence, part deliberate failure to provide Iraqi forces with the equipment they need to act independently of an American logistic and heavy firepower tail. Thus, in all major operations, the tail has been able to wag the dog.
Iraq has been thus rendered unsovereign, a mere Satrapy, unable to conduct its own defense against other nations. Now, we're seeing that it's unable to conduct it's own internal security - still - as well.
The 14th Division, the main formation in Maliki's attack on the Sadrists of Basra, was recruited from the Basra area itself and is mainly composed of Badr Brigade militia inducted wholesale into the Army. It has been preening itself in Diwaniyah, Kerbala and Najaf ever since, given the prestigious but job of guarding the main Basra-Baghdad rail corridor and the Holy Cities. It's being commanded by Maliki's own brother-in-law. But this Praetorian Guard has only the very lightest of Eastern European armored trucks as it's main personnel carriers, few tanks, and no heavy artillery.
This comparatively crack division, probably the only one Maliki could be so sure of mainly staying loyal, has proven utterly inadequate to the task given it. That's partly a problem of "balance of forces", as Fester so ably pointed out the other day, but it is also a legacy of American failures and deliberate policies which have left the Iraqi Army emasculated and little more than a well-equipped militia itself.
Unless the Bush administration and the Maliki government were deep in denial, believing their own PR on how wonderful the Iraqi Army now was, then they had to be at least somewhat aware of all this. So they must have known from the very first that Maliki's offensive would need American rescuing. That means, since it went ahead anyway, that they considered that rescuing a feature, not a bug.
Maybe I have been oblivious to it all my life, but it seems that the razor-thin and contested election in 2000 and terrorist attack the following year either created or revealed tribal identities that had gone unnoticed for a long time. Many retreated into territories defined by politics and religion. In this historic primary season it has happened again, now along racial and gender lines. It isn’t absolute by any means, just much more clearly marked. All of it is driven by group identification, and in that sense it comes from a level too low to be reached by persuasion. It may be dressed up in formal clothes, sober tones, a big vocabulary and impressive rationalizations, but much of the time what passes for dialog seems to come from some of our most primitive instincts.It seems to me what's happening falls short of a mob mentality certainly, but might rightly be called what used to be termed group think, meaning one becomes so involved in an organizational effort that it obliterates the logical filters that would ordinarily temper one's thinking.
The Navy lawyer for Osama bin Laden's driver argues in a Guantánamo military commissions motion that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 campaign.
Notably, it describes a Sept. 29, 2006, meeting at the Pentagon in which Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, a veteran White House appointee, asked lawyers to consider Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutions in light of the campaign.You'll remember it was this particular political interference that led to the resignation of Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who served as former chief Pentagon prosecutor. But even leaving aside the untoward political machinations for a moment, it defies logic to cast the driver as a mastermind in any AQ plots. In any criminal enterprise, isn't the driver usually the one who's too out of the loop to be trusted with any part of the operation except driving the car? One doubts he was privy to any high level meetings. More likely he would be left waiting in the car.
I mean think about it. Isn't that like holding Hilter's limo driver responsible for the Holocaust? Maybe Hamdan was even a loyal and willing soldier in the AQ organization but the only thing high value about him is likely to be his political value to the GOP in timing his prosecution to influence the election cycle.
"President Bush talked about having a road map to peace. It took him seven years to take it out of the glove compartment." ~Madeline AlbrightGreat line. I think Albright may be wasting her talents in academia. Maybe she should be writing monlogues for the late night comics.
"The key question now is what the United States is going to do," said Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group think tank. "If it allows (the crackdown) to go forward the ceasefire will unravel and the U.S. will face the Sadr movement in its full power."Oh yeah, Mosul. While it's been getting almost no press in the States, there's been a major battle going on there too for months which has seen violence rise to a 2-year high with no end in sight and several reports suggest the fighting is against a wider-based insurgency than one composed just of the rump of AQI's presence. Let's not forget, too, that Turkey is still shelling and bombing Kurdish Iraq, and will be back over the border in force as soon as the Spring Thaw sets in. Between these and other prior commitments, the US will be lucky if it can shake loose three brigades to help Maliki's crackdown. They'll be going in essentially blind.
"This is a precarious situation," a senior official familiar with U.S. intelligence in southern Iraq said, with "a lot to be gained and a lot to lose." This official and others said that even as Maliki takes needed military action in Basra, he appears to be positioning himself and his Shiite political allies for dominance in provincial elections this fall.Indeed, the Sadrist insurrection which has followed Maliki's assault now controls many towns athwart the main route of supply for US forces, up from Saudi Arabia - and insurgent troops can take potshots at supply trucks all day every day if needed.
Yet, despite all this, there are good reasons to be sceptical of leaks from the White House suggesting the administration had no idea Maliki was going to bring his offensive forwards three months and thus pre-empt any moves by Sadr (and perhaps Petreaus, who has been getting along well with "Seyyed" Muqtada of late) which might have made it unneccesary.
Nor should the US be looking to the UK to provide anything but base security at the Basra Airport, probable home of US forces sent to bail out Maliki's division of Badr Brigade militiamen in Iraqi Army uniforms. While British politicians are under intense pressure from the US to commit their three available battlegroups – each of about 650 men armed with Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles – the British military is implaccably opposed to such intervention.
"It's ridiculous for Britain's position in Iraq that we've got this firepower down there and we're not willing to help the Iraqis out," the British official said. "The army won't even listen to suggestions it might be needed."Maliki, too, is seeing political blowback froom his hasty move - and his governemnt is busy painting itself into a corner even as contrary voices mobilize. His foreign minister has told the Arab Council that there will be no walking back or negotiated settlement. Maliki himself has today gone as far as to call the Sadrists worse than Al Qaeda and promise no surrender or negotiation. But there are reports that Grand Ayatollah Sistani (or the "cat-herder", as Eric likes to call him) is backing calls for negotiations instead of Maliki's intransigence - a new development in Shiite inter-relations and one that seriously weakens Maliki's postion.
The scale of the outcry has forced Grand Ayattollah Sistani to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, even though his various spokespeople initially supported the assault. By Friday, government officials were falling over themselves to get to TV stations to declare that the fighting was not against the Sadr movement at all. With an eye on the sentiment and reality on the streets, some officials even heaped praise on Sadr, insisting the conflict was with "ordinary criminals".I saw a report earlier that even Iraqi President Talibani is saying there must be negotiations, but I've lost the link. A senior Iranian cleric, the leader of that country's Guardian Council, has also said that the opposing groups should negotiate an end to their clashes - which seems to put paid to the notion floated by the Saudi-controlled Arabic press that Iran had cut Muqtada loose and green-lighted SIIC and Dawa as their main allies and proxies in Iraq to take the Sadrists out. The Iraqi parliament tried to have a session calling for negotiation, one backed by Sunnis as well as Sadrists - but Dawa and SIIC representatives walked out en masse, leaving them quorumless. Perhaps calls from Sadrist MP's to try Maliki "like Saddam" had something to do with that, perhaps they simply wanted to forestall any notion that they didn't have a national mandate for their parties' self-serving actions.
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. It remains to be seen how fast the Bush administration. always slow to see the blindingly obvious, catch on to this fact.
The Iraqi Army is unable to accomplish its objective, and given the swirl of rumors of Ayatollah Sistani getting ready to step in on the side of a negoatiated settlement that strengthens Sadr and that the Parliament (the place where political reconciliation is supposed to occur) is frozen. Maliki's gamble is not going well as CNN reports the obvious:
Remember, the Mahdi Army has never controlled all of Basra. Most pre-fighting estimates placed their zones of control at a bit more than half of the city. So the areas that the government controls are the ISCI/Badr neighborhoods and potentially the Fadillah neighborhoods, and minimal new ground. Dr. Steven Taylor is looking at the extension of the arms surrender demand deadline and uses some of his prodigious talents to analyze the events going on:
For those keeping score at home, the deadline for fighting to cease was set at 72 hours earlier in the week.Given that the United States has continued to maintain that this is a fight against out of control extremists and not the entire Mahdi Army or the Sadrist support system, MNF-I seems to want to de-escalate the situation and call for a mulligan on the entire operation. Whoops his bad is the preferred strategic option instead of forcing the entire question onto the horns of a triceratops style dilemma.
But what is past is also the present and the bed can not be unshit, not can single iterations change into the best three of five scenarios. Unless a massive negotiated settlement that significantly weakens Maliki is hammered out within the next week, this summer is looking to be a wild ride.
Friday, March 28, 2008
A convoy of 250 Turkish military trucks and civilian buses is headed toward the border with Iraq, nearly a month after a Turkish cross-border operation against Kurdish rebels, a news agency reported Thursday.
Earlier this week, Sadr urged Iraqis to conduct civil disobedience campaigns throughout country to protest the government’s military operations in Basra. On March 27, he called for a political solution to end the "shedding of Iraqi blood".Meanwhile, the Sadrist movement continues to claim that the current crackdown in the South is a case of Malki and his SIIC allies using military force to create electoral results they will be happy with.
Sadr representatives have accused the government of deliberately targeting its members ahead of the crucial October 2008 provincial elections and vowed to fight US and Iraqi forces. Shia parties have vied for political and economic control of Basra since 2003.However, all reports from the region on the spreading violence, as well as posed PR photos, that mention militias by name mention only actions against Sadr's Mahdi Army, while it seems that Badr Brigade militias may be actually joining the Iraqi security forces in their attacks.
But the battle itself is very fluid right now, with successes for forces commanded by the majority Shiite bloc in government on the fringes of the operation but a far more difficult situation than they perhaps expected for them in Basra proper and other large towns.
Sauidi said the Mahdi army was well equipped for the fight ahead. "We have captured lots of their vehicles, machine guns and mortars. We have new RPGs we got from their supply trucks. Our fighters know how to use the side streets as their battle space."That same Sadrist makes very clear the stakes for both sides:
We are going through a battle of existence we will fight to the end. We either survive this or we are finished."I think it's fair to call this civil war.
Senator Bob Casey endorsed Barrack Obama for President this morning and I am very surprised on a couple of fronts as I would have thought that he was a more natural fit for Hillary Clinton's base of support and agenda. Casey is the ultimate Blue Collar Democrat and the 2006 field was cleared for him on the theory that he could do very well (for a Democrat) in the mountainous regions of the state which is the base Republican areas. And he did that, but I still have the question of a counterfactual that any Democrat with a pulse and no necrophiliac tendencies could have done well in 2006 versus Santorum, but that is an argument for another day.
Mike Tedesco of Comments from Left Field, who did a lot of work for Chuck Pennachio (I did some policy writing for Chuck, but Mike worked his tail off), Casey's much more liberal primary challenger in 2006, has a great piece of analysis on the Casey endorsement and some history.
Casey's endorsement is a surprise and is very valuable to Obama because he can serve as a validator for conservative Democrats in the central part of the state that Obama is okay. If Casey appears at Obama's side and says he is a going to be a good president willing to listen to conservative Democrats, this is a very credible and valuable validation. It will not allow Obama to win central state congressional districts as Casey does not have much of an organization still on the ground, but it will help Obama keep the margins and thus the delegate counts close.
Posted by fester at 3/28/2008 10:25:00 AM
MONTGOMERY -- A federal appellate court today ordered former Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison while he appeals his 2006 conviction, saying there are "substantial questions" about his case.That's putting it mildly. The court effectively said the prosecution didn't make its case. As Steve Benen put it in an excellent overview post, "Of course he shouldn’t have been imprisoned; the charges against him have always been a bad joke." The entire justice system has become a criminally bad joke if you ask me.
It's not like Siegelman is the only victim. One can't fail to remember the unfortunate case of Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin. She was wrongly convicted by the same group of politically beholden thugs simply to provide oppo for a failed attempt by the GOP to defeat Gov. Jim Doyle. She also spent many months wrongfully incarcerated and suffered the ruination of her personal life.
I hope I live to see the day when the true criminality of this administration is finally fully exposed and every single perp is convicted and imprisoned for the grievous damage they have done to the rule of law of this land.
The motivation for a major offensive in Basra that was almost certain to force the Sadrists to have a de facto end to their mostly unilateral ceasefire has been bugging me. It does not make a whole lot of sense, especially as the primary prize in Basra, the oil export revenue, is easily deniable by any group with some popular support and access to high explosives, AND the forces committed to the fight are a single light army division and three brigades of police. That force level is absurdly low, especially if there is any reason to believe that there is significant chance of defections.
One of his big problems is that the Sadrists will beat him politically and can go even with him on the corruption and distribution of spoils. So he has to take down Sadr or at least massively rejigger the political equation. And this offensive is his attempt to do so, and it has two interesting option trees. The first is that it actually works in defeating and seizing (intact) the Basra oil export profit center. This allows for a zero-sum transfer of spoils from Sadrists to Maliki's coalition while also embarrassing and weakening the Mahdi Army and enhancing the prestige and loyalty of Badr loyal units. This is very unlikely for multiple reasons. The other option tree is far more interesting.
Let us assume that this is a deliberate provocation exercise.
In this scenario the Iraqi Army attack into Basra's Mahdi neighborhoods does not go well, but it provokes a national Sadrist response which starts a strategic countdown clock. This count down clock includes increased Sadrist/JAM actions against Iraqi government and US Forces such as rocket/mortar attacks on the Green Zone, and attacks against the oil export infrastructure. It includes concerns over US logistics lines as the combination of Basra shutting down and general insecurity in the Shi'ite bridge cities increases.
It puts MNF-I in a very tough position as MNF-I is justifiably paranoid about its supply lines and the new routes coming in from Jordan to Anbar and terminating near Baghdad are insufficient to adequately supply the entire force. The supply lines are much harder to hit today than they were in 2004 but they are still the weak point of the American presence. Additionally the level of fighting increases significantly so SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE.
And that something could be the deployment of American combat troops to Basra, as reports indicate that Marines may be sent to Southern Iraq. The British could provide logistic base security as the Marines bail out the Iraqi Army and take over patrolling activities in Basra. And unless the live and let live arrangment that minimized conflict in Sadr City is quickly put into place, the Marines and the Sadrists will be knocking each others heads in. There will be a strong temptation on the Sadrists fighters to horizontally escalate and raise the level of their activities and attacks in other southern cities. This will be a good test to see how much control Sadr and other senior leadership really have over JAM activities or if they just provide strategic guidance.
If there is horizontal escalation of fighting to other southern cities, two things will happen. The first is that implicit working relationship that MNF-I has been building with elements of the Sadrist movement is scuttled. The second is that the South is now too unstable to have free and fear elections due to those 'thugs' and that elections are suspended until peace breaks out (and coincidentally Sadr and his followers are either killed or de-legitimized. )
This is pure speculation, but as Cernig points out in his post on this subject, everyone is looking for informed speculation as to motive.
Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.And this is not that outlandish of a conspiracy theory as there are few hard to reconcile with reality assumptions in it.