Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Looking ahead at the Shi'ite militias

The recent Brookings trip report to Iraq believed abuses by Shi'ite militias were turning the population against them and pushing communities into the arms of the Coalition. The fighting that just ended between Shi'ite militias in Karbalah, and which forced not only the curtailment of the lucrative pilgrimage but the declaration of a curfew is a perfect example of how not to make friends and influence people.



Fighting among rival Shi'ite militias and police in the Iraqi city of Karbala has killed some 50 people, forcing authorities to curtail a major pilgrimage and order a curfew. Reports say the clashes involved gunmen loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and those connected to the Badr Brigades of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).

Clashes between powerful Shi'ite militias in Iraq may mark the beginning of a new phase of fighting in the southern part of the country. ... It is not only about armed militias. Criminal gangs with no political affiliation are especially strong in the city. Local officials say that about 5,000 assassinations have occurred in the city in the past two years.

Shortly afterward Moqtada al-Sadr announced his intention to deactivate the Mahdhi Army for six months, and the Associated Press cited concerns over internal disunity as the primary reason for its hibernation to regroup.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.

The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

In Najaf, al-Sadr's spokesman said the order also means the Mahdi Army will no longer launch attacks against U.S. and other coalition forces. "It also includes suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers as well as others," Ahmed al-Shaibani told reporters. ...

The order was issued after two days of bloody clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that claimed at least 52 lives. Iraqi security officials blamed Mahdi militiamen for attacking mosque guards, some of whom are linked to the rival Badr Brigade militia.

Without any hard information on exactly why Sadr publicly "froze" his forces close upon the heels of the Karbalah clashes, speculation by the Moon of Alabama -- which is speculation only -- is as good as any. Moon doesn't know why Sadr announced the hibernation, but believes that whatever the reason, he is probably up to no good.

1. An attempt by Sadr or one group working under his name to take over the shrine of Karbala has failed. This failure damaged the reputation of the movement. Now Sadr has to rebuild his forces and street cred to make sure he can win when the next round starts.

2. Sadr is planing for a Tet style offensive and this move is intended to take away some of the pressure the U.S. forces and the rival Shia forces are putting on him. Time to relax and prepare for the big one.

3. Sadr really lost control over most of his forces and needs to implement a new command structure.

Fair enough. But how does the Coalition read the situation? Is it possible to look past the cautious, almost politically correct statements of intention vis a vis the Shi'ite militias to discern their long range intentions? One way to guess is by studying DJ Elliott's projection (at Bill Roggio's site) of the possible order of battle of Iraqi Security Forces Order in five year's time. Elliott says:

What follows is heavy on speculation, estimation, and extrapolations. If sixty percent proves accurate, I will consider it good. It is based on already formed and planned ISF elements, US standard organization, and extrapolation of the planned Table of Organization and Equipment (TO/E). What I have done is take the apparent framework inferred by the current organization and filled in the missing pieces in a standard TO/E. All hard data is in italics.

Elliott's estimate for the Basra area is given below.

- IGFC Basrah Sector (Basrah Operational Command) - III Corps. Threat focus is the southern Iranian border.
13th Mechanized Division - Basrah 10th Motorized Division - Maysan ?? Infantry Division - DhiQar/Muthanna (planned to become motorized) One to two reserve infantry divisions.

From Elliott's tables and the accompanying map, the ISF Basra package follows the pattern of a three division force per "sector" in common with most others. It is nothing special. A national strategic reserve of 6 divisions, based in the Baghdad area, is envisioned and will probably be available to reinforce any part of the country. But if you look at the way the packages are oriented, the IGFC Kirkuk-Baqubah Sector, IGFC Basrah Sector, IGFC Mosul Sector and IGFC Mid-Euphrates Sector are all meant to watch the length of the Iranian border. Only one -- IGFC Ramadi Sector -- is explicitly cited as tasked with watching the Syrian frontier. Bearing in mind Elliot's disclaimer that many of his estimates are soft, the ISF "end state" he describes is fundamentally defensive, but one in which the weight of the defense is oriented towards the Iranian border.

I wouldn't make too much of the data, given its soft nature, but it will be interesting to see how the Coalition and the Shi'te militias play their cards. While the Coalition is currently occupied with smashing al-Qaeda's civil war gambit there are indications that long-range plans exist to address the general Shi'ite militia and Iranian threat. But they are just that: indications.

15 Comments:

Blogger NahnCee said...

Brits are pulling out of Basra. How does that affect the equation, or does it?

I still think that Mookie and Malaki are in cahoots. I can't believe that Mookie is still standing up straight and walking around, if Malaki isn't the person at the top who decreed it to be so. In any analysis of Mookie's motives I would look every bit as closely at what's going on at Malaki's end, as I would look at whether or not Tehran is twitching his puppet strings.

(I read something yesterday that Iran is predicting a power vacuum in the top leadership in Iraq, and they are prepared to step in and assist their Arab brethren in trouble. Maybe Mookie's just cleaning off his plate so he has time to concentrate on being a new figurehead, stepping in to help Malaki.)

8/29/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Could it be that the various insurgent "pre-Petraeus Report Tet offensives" have fizzled? That being the case, why not act like they were never planned to begin with? Because if they were planned and fizzled, that would be big loss for them and a big win for us.

I thought that the insurgent Tet would largely fizzle but that the Iraqi government might have its own political Tet Offensive (or rather counter offensive)--where they pass the oil law and perhaps agree to provincial elections next year and perhaps early national elections as well. I think the oil law is agreed to in principle, along with several amendments to their constitution to be on the ballot. Of course the current crop of politicians must fear for their jobs so perhaps they will just try to hold on. But I think provincial elections will be a go.

8/29/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I don't trust Moqtada al Sadr. After considering the possibility of his inclusion in the nascent political scene, I eventually advocated for his destruction in 2004. I wonder what the farther reaching consequences of that action would have been had it occurred. But that opportunity has passed. I am no politician, diplomat or soldier but my instinct with this guy is watch out.

8/29/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Leaving Muqtada al Sadr alive was the greatest blunder of the Bush Administration, far greater than the Abu Ghraib fiasco. It demoralized the American military, emboldened terrorists and insurgents, and ensured that the nacent Iraqi Government would be fatally flawed from the outset.

It's not too late. Assasination was an art form created in the Mideast.

8/29/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

I'll agree with Peter Grynch, al-Sadr needs a dirt nap at his earliest opportunity. Hopefully he can bring along the wacky little weasel when he comes across the border from Iran.

8/29/2007 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

It may be fairly simple. Moqtada al Sadr is an agent of Iran. Bush's language against Iran is growing stronger. It looks like Bush has made it easier for our troops to strike Iranian operatives. Moqtada al Sadr or his top thugs are in the sights of his gun. Hence, they hide.

President Bush: Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people. Members of the Qods Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are supplying extremist groups with funding and weapons, including sophisticated IEDs. And with the assistance of Hezbollah, they've provided training for these violent forces inside of Iraq. Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months -- despite pledges by Iran to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq.

Some say Iran's leaders are not aware of what members of their own regime are doing. Others say Iran's leaders are actively seeking to provoke the West. Either way, they cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities. (Applause.)

See: President Bush 1/2 page down

8/30/2007 12:54:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/30/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

8/30/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger R said...

Rules of engagement that have come home to haunt the American troops, and hopefully our commander in chief along with those way-to-smart pentagon lawyers!

We all know that Mookie should have been taken out years ago. Maybe some American citizen should do a study of how many American soldiers have been killed and/or injured since we had that easy shot on this evil leader so that our government leaders might plan visits to their families hoping to explain why they were so stupid from the get-go!

Next, these same government leaders might want to call up their personal financial advisers and see if they have enough funds stashed away that could be used to replenish our treasury since they let Mookie slide.

Let me guess our new grand strategy: We wear out the Iraqi population with blood sweat and tears till they realize it is better to come together than stay apart? Brilliant, really brilliant!

Just when does this reality come into being? I wonder how many readers of the Belmont Club have children in military uniform, ready to send them overseas while our schools here in the US decide how many footbaths are required for their "special" students?

Lawyers... Real leaders... Sure.

Who's got the lipstick?

8/30/2007 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

I recall Gerecht's thesis that the reality of Islamist rule tends to result in cynical subjects (see Iran), subjects that, given the choice, eventually reject their totalitarian overlords in favor of moderate government.

The trick is to keep open that choice, that lifeline, so that when the frustration of the people reaches critical mass, they can effect a change in circumstance. This is what we did in Anbar: when the call came, the Sunnis, who were being terrorized by radical foreigners, found the American hand extended and ready to help.

Our strategy is simple. Keep the hand of Uncle Sam extended, steady and strong (which means we need to position our assets with "availability/accessibility" in the front of our mind). Nobody likes it when Junior is killed for wearing shorts, or when Uncle Ahmed is tortured for smoking cigarettes. Enough of that crap, and the call will come.

Like most struggles, America is lucky in her enemies. Incorporating this gift of fate into our overall approach is just good, common sense.

8/30/2007 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The politicios that let Mr al-Sadr "slip away", refresh yourself with the historical reality, as told by Mr Bremer, the HMFIC, in Iraq, in 2004.

This taken from a November 2006 Newsweak piece that has never, to my knowledge been disputed by the any of other participents.

The subject of the discussion Mr al-Sadr:

Bremer responded that he was waiting for a new plan from Coalition forces.

"I first wanted to go after him when he had probably fewer than 200 followers," Bremer recalled in an interview with Newsweek last week. "I couldn't make it happen ... the Marines were resisting doing anything."


But in the meantime, on March 28, 2004 Bremer suspended publication of Sadr's newspaper after it ran an editorial praising the 9/11 attacks on America as a "blessing from God."
The response was swift: mass demonstrations, which would lead to the first of two Sadr uprisings in 2004. In a final meeting between Diamond and Bremer on April 1,(Larry) Diamond pressed the point that the U.S. needed more troops in Iraq. It was around 8 p.m., and Bremer's dinner was sitting on a tray uneaten. He looked exhausted. "And he just didn't want to hear it," says Diamond. "In retrospect, I think he had gone to the well on this issue of more troops during 2003, had gotten nowhere ... and had just resigned himself to the fact that these troops just weren't going to come. I think the tragedy is that everyone just gave up."


Larry Diamond, a senior adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer

"I couldn't make it happen ... the Marines were resisting doing anything." Mr Bremer quoted by Newsweak.

That's the tale, they're stickin' to it, it was the Marines that let Mookie slip away, not a politico.

Let's not try to revise US hstory, just to keep the Marine's honor seem cleaner in an unsavory situation.

8/30/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger R said...

Desert Rat..where are we? I am saying that within our government, lawyers played with this game of Mookie...live or die?

What are you saying?

8/30/2007 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

That, if one believes Mr Bremer and Mr Senor, which I tend to unless disputed by others that were there, which in the year since publication in Newsweak, no one has, it was the USMC saved Mookie's bacon.

Not the lawyers, not the politicos, but the Marine Corps. It was the Marines that did not want to take action on Mr Bremer's directives.
They were handing off that area of operations to the Spanish and did not want to rock the boat.

The link to the story.

It was the Marines the let Mookie slide, according to Bremer.

Diamond told Bremer the U.S. urgently needed to act against Sadr, Newsweek reports. Bremer responded that he was waiting for a new plan from Coalition forces. "I first wanted to go after him when he had probably fewer than 200 followers," Bremer recalled in an interview with Newsweek last week. "I couldn't make it happen ... the Marines were resisting doing anything."

8/30/2007 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Another link direct to the original MSNBC/Newsweak piece.

In it the reference to the Spanish and Latin American troops is made.

8/30/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

There have been reports that a number of splinters have been flying loose from Milkdud's control. I speculate he is calling a halt to hostilities to let others do the work he can not do. Obviously the splinters are not taking commands from Milkdud so they keep fighting and getting killed. A purge.

In addition, I recall reading from somewhere (I want to say Iraq The Model but am not certain) he flows quite quickly and smoothly from bombs to talk and back depending on what he wants and how much of what he wants he gets.

We'll see.

8/30/2007 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

AQI and the Shi'a insurgents overreached and have lost the "people" upon whom they depend.

The surge has given us the resources to capitalize on these errors and bring substantial security to some of the worst parts of the country. There even appear to be a few positive changes in the national government.

The insurgents blew this last round very badly. So what are their next moves? Do they double down on the violence or shift to the obvious plan b, which is to go to ground and wait quietly for us to declare victory and draw down? That would match the North Vietnamese strategy - they waited for Congress to cut off the funding, then they attacked with a rehabbed army and won easily.

9/01/2007 01:23:00 PM  

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