Another day, more fascinating news about Iraq!

I.  “In Fallujah, Peace Through Brute Strength“, Washington Post (24 March 2008) — “Iraqi City’s Fragile Security Flows From Hussein-Era Tactics”

Matthew Yglesias comments:

As he lays it out, the successes are very real — the city was once held by the insurgency, and now it’s basically under control. Specifically, it’s under the control of Col. Faisal Ismail al-Zobaie who served in the Republican Guard, then served as a commander in the insurgency, and then got fed up with AQI’s antics, and now serves, with American approval, as police chief of Fallujah.

He still doesn’t like Americans, still doesn’t like the Shiite government of Iraq, and still doesn’t like democracy. But he is happy to take American weapons and money and to cooperate with the American military. It’s not clear if his cooperation would continue if we asked him to cooperate by, say, running the town along liberal principles or submitting to the authority of the central government, but the local troops are trying to get along and he’s willing to get along. And so there you have your success. It’s real enough. It’s also obviously not what we invaded Iraq to accomplish (after all, the Republican Guard was running the country already before we invaded) and it’s not at all clear where it leads you.

II.  “Yeah, The End of the Sadrist Ceasefire“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent (25 March 2008)

I recommend a two-pronged strategy. First, begin drinking heavily. Second, withdraw immediately from Iraq. Consider this (from “Iraqi Crackdown on Shiite Forces Sets Off Fighting”, New York Times, 26 March 2008):

“Heavy fighting broke out Tuesday in Basra and Baghdad, after Iraqi ground forces and helicopters mounted a major operation in Basra against Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, whose months-long cease-fire is credited with reducing the level of violence during the troop surge. There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla.

“In Basra, Iraq’s most important oil-exporting center, thousands of Iraqi government soldiers and police moved into the city around 5 a.m. and engaged in pitched battles with Shiite militia members that have taken over big swathes of that city.

“What appeared to be American or British jets also soared through the skies, witnesses said, providing air support. The operation, which senior Iraqi officials had been signaling for weeks, is considered so important by the Iraqi government that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who went to Basra on Monday, intended to personally direct the fighting, several Iraqi officials said.

… “We are doing this in reaction to the unprovoked military operations against the Mahdi Army,” said a Mahdi commander who identified himself as Abu Mortada. “The U.S., the Iraqi government and SCIRI are against us,” he said, referring to a rival Shia group. “They are trying to finish us. They want power for the Iraqi government and SCIRI.” But Basra has been riven by violent power struggles among the Mahdi Army and local Shiite rivals, such as one controlled by the Fadhila political party. In the weeks leading up to the operation, Iraqi officials indicated that part of the operation would be aimed at the Fadhila groups, who are widely believed to be in control of Basra’s lucrative port operations and other parts of the city.”

That doesn’t sound like “civil disobedience.” That sounds like an intifada. If it doesn’t get tamped down like right now, it represents an overturning of the creaking apple cart known as the Baghdad political process, and the replacement of the Shiite political leadership. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that here in the States it’s Happy Hour.

That is a reasonable recommendation.  If the various elements in Iraq burst into flame, there is not much the US can do to stop it.  If the US government has encouraged these operations against the Mahdi Army during its self-imposed cease-fire, drinks are probably the best response for those of us on the home front.

III.  Is Iran pulling the strings in Iraq, as part of a great powers chess game with the United States? 

The usually-excellent Stratfor continues to demonstrate how America’s long wars are melting our minds.  Their “top down” analytical framework has jumped the rails, seeing many of the Shiite Arab leaders in Iraq as remote-controlled robots of Iran.  Here is a brief excerpt from their analysis of this latest fighting, from “Iraq: The Mehdi Army’s Existential Crisis” (25 March 2008):

As Iran continues using certain rogue elements for its own geopolitical objectives, it becomes harder for al-Sadr to lead his group away from its radical origins and toward moderation.

The latest wave of violence involving al-Sadr’s militia is in keeping with Iran’s need to remind the United States that it can easily create problems in Iraq. The move comes after U.S. officials refused to meet with their Iranian counterparts for the fourth round of public talks in Baghdad, and after the assassination of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyah at the hands of Israeli intelligence. However, the recent attacks seem different from previous occasions in which Iran used Shiite militias to strengthen its negotiating position with the United States. Iran does not appear to be willing to go all out and abandon the truce, though it is concerned about U.S. attempts to influence al-Sadr and his group.

Perhaps this is so, but there are simpler explanations that do not require assuming Iranian intervention.  Perhaps elements of the Mahdi Army as angry at attacks by US and Irag national government forces during their cease-fire, and are striking back.  This seems the simpler explanation, although conflicting with the US government’s master narrative of “Iran as the regional bad guy”, which US officials have pushed for so long with so little evidence.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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3 thoughts on “Another day, more fascinating news about Iraq!

  1. I don’t know why you think STRATFOR is “usually excellent.” The questionable assertions and conclusions in that article you quote are neither isolated nor unique to the Iraq War.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am a nice guy, and try to think well of everyone.

  2. Personally I think the Iranians are backing all the major Shia/Kurdish fractions. So no matter who will win a power struggle the Iranian will have influence with the winners. But I doubt they have enough influence to push Sadr into a conflict. The Iraqi have their own political goals.

    Could the Basra conflict spring from the positioning for the next Iraqi elections in late-2009?

    Sadr’s MPs have left the government some time ago and are in a perfect position to criticize the lack of progress with regards to water & power supply, etc, etc. If his party gains a substantial advance in MPs and become unavoidable in forming a new government, his party could change the existing Iraqi policies.
    Fabius Maximus: But we too “are backing all the major Shia/Kurdish fractions.” Sort of — neither us nor Iran is backing everyone. They back a wider range of Shia Arabs, but we back the Sunni Arabs. Since we have similar allies, are Iran and America allies (transitive relationship among allies)? Or are we rivals, like two guys dating the same girls?

  3. It’s also important to remember that Iran and Iraq fought a long, drawn out, brutal war not so long ago. While it was Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis at the helm, Iran tried to rally Iraqi Shia and failed rather badly. And that’s just recent stuff. So yeah, the Iranians are probably trying to influence as much as they can in Iraq, but the history of the region makes me disbelieve the Iraqis would mindlessly follow whatever path the Iranians want.

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