Friday, March 28, 2008

The War On Sadr Begins - & The WP Throws Their Support to Sadr (Updated)

For Iraq to create a functioning democracy, it has always been a question of when rather than if U.S. and Iraqi forces would have to deal with Sadr and his Iranian backed Mahdi militia. It would appear that, despite the six month extension to the cease fire proclaimed by Sadr in February, the time for dealing with the Sadr's Mahdi militia is now.


Sadr's Iranian backed Mahdi militia is now in open revolt in Basra and Baghdad as well as other areas in the south of Iraq. U.S. forces have joined the fight. The spark for this fight was Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's order to his army to retake Basra - the major Iraqi port - from the "criminal elements" who are controlling the port as part of an incredibly lucrative enterprise involving theft of oil. Maliki claims that this is not directed at Sadr, yet from the reaction by the Sadrists, there can be little doubt that they form the bulk of the "criminal elements" in Basra and that their major source of funds is now threatened.

This conflict was inevitable. Sadr, alligned with Iran and studying to become an ayatollah based on the Iranian school that requires clerical rule, has been an intensely destabilizing force in Iraq despite his recently declared cease-fires. It has long appeared that Iran wanted to see the Mehdi militia turned into a Hezbollah type of operation with Sadr at its head and loyal to Iran. See here and here. Following the British withdrawal from Basra, the Iranians, working through their Sadr proxies, have been attempting to take control of Basra through a combination of assassinations and intimidation. If there is ever to be a functioning democracy in Iraq, Sadr and his militia must be disarmed, or barring that, destroyed.

And now it has begun. PM Maliki's offensive to retake Basra has lit a larger revolt by Sadrists in Baghdad and throughout cities in the south of Iraq. Sadr himself is calling for a negotiated settlement - something the Iraqi government should not even consider. This from Bill Rogio:

The cease-fire extension issued by Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army, appears to be in jeopardy after the Iraqi government has launched an offensive against the Shia terror group in the southern city of Basrah. Dubbed Operation Knights' Assault, Iraqi security forces have gone on the offensive to wrest control of the strategic oil hub and Iraq's second largest city from Mahdi Army control. The fighting has spread to Baghdad and the southern provinces.

Knights' Assault is an Iraqi-led operation and was ordered directly by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who is in Basrah to direct the operation along with Interior Minister Jawad Bolani. Basrah has seen an uptick in Iranian-backed terror activity since the British withdrew from the city late last year. Political assassinations and intimidation campaigns have been on the rise as the Iranians work to extend their influence in the oil-rich city.

At least 18 Iraqis were killed, including three policemen, and more than 100 were wounded in fighting in the southern city on Tuesday, as Iraqi troops advance to clear neighborhoods controlled by the Mahdi Army. Fighting is reported to have broken out in Baghdad and Al Kut in Wasit province. Curfews have been imposed in Karbala, Wasit, Babil, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, and Basrah after fighting between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi security forces broke out in the South.

The Sadrist Bloc, the political arm of the Mahdi Army, has boycotted Parliament and called for general strike and civil disobedience. Muqtada al Sadr has not officially withdrawn from the self-imposed cease-fire.

Mahdi Army forces have also launched mortar and rocket attacks at US and Iraqi bases in Baghdad. On March 25, twelve mortar and rocket strikes were launched at the International Zone, Forward Operating Base Falcon, Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah, and Joint Security Stations Thawra 1 and SUJ. The attacks were launched from Sadr City, a Mahdi Army stronghold in Baghdad. On March 23, 15 civilians were killed during mortar and rocket attacks aimed at the sprawling Coalition military complex southern Baghdad.

US troops are acting in a support role in Basrah and the south, several US military officers told The Long War Journal. The US is providing intelligence, combat support, and air assets to back Iraqi security forces in Basrah and along the Iranian border.

US forces are also actively hunting the Mahdi Army cells in Baghdad conducting the mortar and rocket attacks. Coalition and Iraqi Army forces detained 11 Special Groups operatives believed to be behind a mortar attack on FOB Falcon.

The current Iraqi offensive has been in the works for some time. The Iraqi Army and police have been massing forces in the South since August 2007, . . .

The clashes with the Mahdi Army come just weeks after Muqtada al Sadr admitted failure in Iraq. "So far I did not succeed either to liberate Iraq or make it an Islamic society — whether because of my own inability or the inability of society, only God knows," Sadr wrote to his followers. "The continued presence of the occupiers, on the one hand, and the disobedience of many on the other, pushed me to isolate myself in protest. I gave society a big proportion of my life. Even my body became weaker, I got more sicknesses." . . .

Read the entire article here. Update: You can find Michael Yon's take on the hostilities in Basra and the Iranian connection in an MP3 interview with Instapundit here.

Sadr has called for a negotiated end to the offensive, an offer Maliki has refused, stating "We entered this battle with determination and we will continue to the end. No retreat. No talks. No negotiations." As reported by Reuters, Sadrists have, in addition to engaging in general hositilities in several areas, kidnapped an Iraqi government spokesman and bombed an oil pipeline.

The New York Times and the Washington Post are both spinning their reporting on this, though the latter is the worst. The NYT reports, U.S. forces have flown reconnisance over Basra and have engaged in a bombing run. As the NYT frames this, the U.S. has been "drawn into" the fight in Basra, as opposed to this being how regular operations are envisioned as Iraqi forces stand-up. If things are working as planned, than offensives such as what is occurring in Basra would have Iraqi forces in the lead, supported as necessary by U.S. forces, and especially U.S. air power, a combat multiplier that the Iraqi military cannot yet field.

The Washington Post reporting, which you can find here, is outrageous, spinning off into the arena of supposition, conspiracy theory and anti-American propaganda:

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.

The WP seems to think this offensive came out of thin air. They ignore both the build-up of Iraqi forces, as reported by the LWJ, and the acts that have made the offensive necessary - i.e., the withdrawal of British forces, the increased Iranian inspired violence in Basra by the Mahdi Army, and the fact that the government of Iraq has the right, responsibility and duty to control their sole major port. The WP seems to be deligitimizing the offensive, portraying it as some sort of corrupt political maneuver against innocent Sadrists. To continue:

In Basra, three rival Shiite groups have been trying to position themselves, sometimes through force of arms, to dominate recently approved provincial elections.

The U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said that they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups: the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Iraq's largest Shiite party; and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor's seat. But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute.

Some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections," the administration official said.

"His dog in that fight is that he is basically allied with the Badr Corps" against forces loyal to Sadr, the official said. "It's not a pretty picture."

I have no idea who the WP is getting its quotes from, but they are problematic. One, the jump in violence in Basra is primarilly related to the Mahdi army. Two, this government offensive is aimed at "all criminal elements" and to demilitarize the city, meaning it will target elements beyond Sadr's militia. Three, to the extent these other oraganizations are not engaging in assassination, theft and intimidation - and I have seen no reports indicating that the ISCI or Fadhila are doing so as part of regular ongoing operations - then Maliki should be aligned with them. They are part of the democratic process. Four, and perhaps the most galling of this incredibly poor WP report, is that it ignores the fundamental truth that the Iraqi government can, should and must have control of its ports and cities, as well as control Iraq's primary public resource, oil. There is nothing dubious about this offensive. To the contrary, it is absolutely necessary if the government is to ever function.

And the WP is far from done. To continue:

. . . Several Mahdi Army commanders said they had been fighting U.S. forces for the past three days in Sadr City, engaging Humvees as well as the Strykers. By their account, an Iraqi special forces unit had entered Sadr City from another direction, backed by Americans, but otherwise the fighting had not been with Iraqis.

"If there were no Americans, there would be no fighting," said Abu Mustafa al-Thahabi, 38, a senior Mahdi Army member.

The WP repeats that quote and leaves it hanging with no rebuttal - suggesting that the violence in Iraq is solely a function of the U.S. presence. What pure bull.

Sadrists are rising up throughout Iraq and most of the violence is not directed at the U.S. It just so happens that near Sadr City, there are American targets. Further, as a practical matter, this report wholly ignores Iranian involvement in the violence and their efforts to dominate Shia Iraq through the Mahdi Army. And lastly, as a practical matter, leaving this quote hanging implies that having an unsanctioned militia in Iraq whose loyalty is to Sadr, if not directly to Iran, rather than to the Iraqi government is perfectly acceptable. In what world does that make any sense? In essence, what the WP is doing is reporting enemy propoganda unchallenged.

It is one thing to be anti-American, another entirely to be pro-enemy. The WP crosses both lines with its reporting today.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

It was time five years ago to deal with al Sadr, his militia, and the Iranians in Iraq, so better late than never......I am so sick of the killing though - I can only imagine how the Iraqi people are coping.