Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How far against Sadr?

There question about Operation Knight's Assault, Iraqi PM Maliki's onslaught on the Mahdi Army is how far it will go. Bill Roggio reports that the showdown has been in the works for some time.

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, when the Basrah Operational Command was established to coordinate efforts in the region. As of December the Iraqi Army deployed four brigades and an Iraqi Special Operations Forces battalion in Basrah province. The Iraqi National Police deployed two additional battalions to the province.

DJ Elliott, who has been closely following the buildup of the Iraqi Army has watched it expand over the last year. Of particular relevance were the creation of mobile reserves and improvements in the Iraqi Army's capability to sustain combat operations.

The offensive is almost entirely an all-Iraqi show. British forces, though still in Basra are uninvolved. The International Herald Tribune says "U.S. forces also appeared to play little role in the clashes in Baghdad." Maliki himself toured Basra a few days ago. A Time article by Bobby Ghost speculates on whether Maliki will finish off Sadr as a political force, unlike Iyad Allawi, who crushed Sadr with US help in 2004 only to let him off the hook after intervention by Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

But more than Sistani's intervention saved Sadr's position on that occasion. The US was preoccupied in combating what it felt was the primary threat: al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency. Sadr's political clout after the elections also prevented Maliki from acting against him. But things have changed. Bobby Ghosh writes:

Now Maliki is hoping that the U.S. military's successes against al-Qaeda have also helped Shi'ites feel more secure — and less dependent on the Mahdi Army's protection. He's betting, too, that he has enough support in parliament to risk Sadr's wrath, counting on Kurdish parties to keep his government afloat in the event Sadr's loyalists desert the coalition. The Prime Minister has also been careful to give himself some political wiggle room. His spokesman has said the operation in Basra is not directed at the Mahdi Army, but against unspecified "armed gangs." This allows Maliki to end the offensive at any time, declare victory against the "gangs" and leave the Mahdi Army bloodied but not beaten.

Maliki has already signalled he is willing to talk to any element of the Mahdi Army that is willing to lay down its weapons. The Washington Post reports that "Maliki issued a statement giving gunmen in Basra three days to give up their weapons and renounce further violence. Those who don't, said a Maliki aide, will be targeted for arrest in the ongoing security operation." So the likelihood is that Operation Knight's Assault will end with Sadr's forces diminished, but not eliminated. Sadr himself, hidden out in Iran, will probably survive.

But this doesn't mean it is wholly futile. The fact that operations against the Sadr have been undertaken by the Iraqi Army under a Shi'ite government sends a powerful signal to Iran that this beef is between Baghdad and Teheran. It is not a Sunni-Shia affair nor one in which Washington is the primary belligerent. Iraqi politicians, like every other, are jealous of their power. Iran has in the past tried to run things via Sadr. But now Iraq may be claiming primary power within its borders for itself. Thus, Operation Knight's assault is not only aimed at frustrating Sadr's dream of recreating a Hezbollah-style organization in Iraq, but communicating Iraq's determination to defend its sovereignty internationally.

The next two or three days will reveal whether Sadr can mount an effective response against Maliki; and more importantly how soon the Iraqi PM is willing to call off the dogs. For Sadr the timing of the offensive comes at a time when both Clinton and Obama are preoccupied with their war against each other. Neither candidate has reacted to restrain Maliki, who looks like he will have a few hours yet in which to accomplish whatever goal he has in mind.





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20 Comments:

Blogger Peter Grynch said...

When the Bush Administration let Sadr off the hook, I lost all faith in the Bush Administration.

Maybe they can redeem themselves a bit at this late date.

I doubt it.

3/26/2008 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Habu said...

What is past may indeed be prologue ,however that is a comforting nostrum only to those who believe that all past is all prologue to the future. Nothing is ever all.

Iraq is now up against the acid test. The Brits gone and social order with it. Can the nascent government defeat Sadr? We will get strong indications in short order. Al Malaki would certainly by now have HUMINT close enough to Sadr to take him out in a wet works op. If he doesn't then we haven't trained him properly and we will have to do it. High risk, high reward.

If Iraq fails this challenge then the 2/3rds who want us out of Iraq will jump. We will be faced with an out of control stock market, falling dollar, and a military that should have but didn't level Iraq and rebuild from scratch and more than likely see nations one after another decouple from the dollar and seek more rapidly than they already are he rising Euro.

The one bright spot is that Bush appears poised to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to rubble following the election in November, but that will not stop North Korea, China, and a resurgent Soviet Union from coming after a weakened USA.

The US is looking more and more like the wounded old Wildebeest trailing the herd and hunted by the lions and hyenas.

3/26/2008 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

During my daughter's birthday party, I had a conversation with another daddy who was a USMC major recently returned from Iraq. This major had been a military governor of some town in Iraq (politically well connected). I asked him why Sadr hadn't been eliminated. He replied that the US had been told very early in the processs that killing off high ranking Shiite clerics was not an option. He also said that secretly eliminating Shiite clerics through use of a hired assassin, etc. would not work because people would eventually find out and there would be severe consequences. The USMC major expressed this information very emphatically, like its truth was beyond doubt or refutation. My impression is that someone very high up is protecting Sadr. The major also mentioned that Sadr has a serious drug addiction.

It maybe that Sadr has been allowed to live because anyone likely to replace him would be more competent as an enemy.

3/26/2008 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"The US is looking more and more like the wounded old Wildebeest trailing the herd and hunted by the lions and hyenas."

I'd say more like an Alpha bull elephant, long king of the herd, who pulled a few muscles in unusually frequent battles. He's slower than usual, not as nimble or strong...but it's temporary and if he really had to he could clean the clock of any lion or pack of hyenas that was stupid enough to start something just because he looked like he was having a hard time.

3/26/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Clyde said...

Very interesting analysis, as always.

Michael Ledeen claims that Moqtadah al Sadr is history, and irreverently suggests that the Iranians "recalled him for an intense Bible Study course, split his movement into various shards, and appointed some of their reliable killers to manage the pieces. Those are the “militias” against which the Iraqi Army is fighting these days."

3/26/2008 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger jc said...

How did the job of reacting to restrain Maliki fall to Clinton and Obama? Isn't Bush still president? What power does an individual senator have to restrain the leader of a foreign nation?

Bush is still president and the right is already blaming the next administration for his failures.

3/26/2008 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Randvek said...

I was wondering the same thing, JC. I seem to recall a lot of howling 4 years ago whenever Kerry commented on international affairs, since it wasn't his place to do so. Maybe Clinton and Obama are too smart to fall for that now.

3/26/2008 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If Sadr is hiding in Iran, shooting up whatever he's addicted to, how is he going to mount an offensive? Doesn't a leader have to be sorta/kinda near to the battle, at least near enough to disperse money and bullets?

I wonder if the US and/or Iraq have managed to stop the flow of Iranian bullets and rials into Basra.

3/26/2008 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

Wretchard, you seem to assume that Mailiki is opposed to Iranian interests in Iraq. Strange. For someone who is fighting tooth and nail against the Persian invader, he seemed awfully cheery with Ahmadinejad, and he had to know of Iran's connections to Sadr, right?

http://www.fatladysings.us/the_fat_lady_sings/images/2007/08/09/ahmadinejad2.jpg

After all, it is very easy to research who trained Maliki, sheltered him, helped him to create the Dawa party . . . in Iran!

Is it possible that Iran is satisfied with letting its cat's paws bleed one another? Can we really trust Maliki, who is an avowed Shiite Islamist?

3/26/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger LarryD said...

OT Spengler on Magdi Allam's conversion and baptism.

3/26/2008 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I think the sad thing about this latest round of fighting is that all this past calm was really a prologue to a storm. There's so much unfinished business in Iraq that things are by nature going to procede in phases; violence followed by periods of relative calm; sort of like Israel. The Middle East seems to be that sort of neighborhood.

3/26/2008 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

I think the sad thing about this latest round of fighting is that all this past calm was really a prologue to a storm.

I don't think it was possible to see the past ceasefire as a "calm" or "stability" without ignoring the fact that Dawa and SCIRI are strong allies of Iran. They will NEVER be trustworthy allies of ours, anymore that the Baathist dead-enders in the Awakening Movement.

Here's CSIS's Anthony Cordesman on the Shiite conflict:

There is also no doubt that the extreme rogue elements in the JAM have continued acts of violence in spite of the ceasefire, and that some have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents, or ignore the actions of the extreme elements of the JAM.

But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi'ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule.


http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/politics/blog/2008/03/expert_current_iraq_fighting_n.html

And here's some basic info on Iranian influnce with SCIRI/ISCI, Maliki's allies in parliament.

3/26/2008 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

"But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi'ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule."

The Surge is important because it marks a return of the Sunnis to the political table, but this time as US allies, or at least, no longer as combatants.

I think it would be a mistake to regard Maliki as a puppet just dying to have his strings pulled in Teheran. Why should he settle for that when he runs a country with as much potential power and wealth as his masters? Common sense alone would suggest the current rulers of Iraq would try to keep the country for themselves.

But even if certain Shi'ite politicians in Baghdad were completely dominated by Iran, the Shi'ites themselves are fractured and there are the Sunnis to contend with. And always there's the long shadow of oil. Maliki cannot hope to access the oil resource with a civil war in progress. He must either pacify the Sunnis and Kurds completely or federate with them. Because it is beyond is power to pacify them, perforce he must coalesce. But in the meantime there will be all kinds of explosions on the road.

3/26/2008 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger reoconnot said...

"When the Bush Administration let Sadr off the hook, I lost all faith in the Bush Administration."
peter grynch

peter, are you the grynch who stole victory? There have been numerous reports that Sistani asked that al Sadr not be killed.

Do you think this war could have been won without the support of Sistani?

3/26/2008 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

The Surge is important because it marks a return of the Sunnis to the political table, but this time as US allies, or at least, no longer as combatants.

Are the Baathist Dead Enders and insurgents with American blood on our hands who make up the Sunni Awakening really our allies? Or are they Sunni thugs biding their time? Thugs like Col. al-Zoabaie, who was a member of the Republican Guard, then an insurgent who killed Americans, and now "our man in Falluja":

"Every time they talk to you there's an agenda," said Miller, the captain who works closely with Zobaie. "You have to figure out what they want right now. If it is this easy, it begs the question: What are we giving them that we don't know that we're giving them?"

What Zobaie wants is for the U.S. military to hand over full control of Fallujah. He believes Iraq's current leaders are not strong enough. Asked whether democracy could ever bloom here, he replied: "No democracy in Iraq. Ever."

"When the Americans leave the city," he said, "I'll be tougher with the people."


Splendid.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/23/AR2008032301990_pf.html

Wretchard wrote: Why should he settle for that when he runs a country with as much potential power and wealth as his masters? Common sense alone would suggest the current rulers of Iraq would try to keep the country for themselves.

Remember, that Iran is a country that will always have Iran as a neighbor, and that Iran trained Maliki as one of their own agents. When Stalinist agents spread out to run their Eastern European satellites, how many of them broke from the Soviet line? What would common sense say?

Maliki is a Shiite Islamist allied with Shiite Islamists. It would be completely foolish to trust him.

3/26/2008 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

Make that:

Remember, that Iraq is a country that will always have Iran as a neighbor, and that Iran trained Maliki as one of their own agents.

(Faugh: spelling, athritis, bad!)

3/26/2008 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger erik said...

"For Sadr the timing of the offensive comes at a time when both Clinton and Obama are preoccupied with their war against each other. Neither candidate has reacted to restrain Maliki"

The rest of the post was interesting, but the above is a strange comment. Is the writer implying that the inevitability of a democratic victory means that these candidates should be stepping up their foreign policy rhetoric, or is he proscribing some kind of larger foreign policy responsibility to currently serving senators who are not even affiliated with the various subcommittees that handle this sort of issue? Either way it makes little sense to suggest that the internecine strife of the democratic primary process has anything at all to do with how we should be directing our foreign policy vis a vis Iraq.

3/26/2008 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

Not sure if this is what Wretchard meant, but..

Maliki's back is covered by the US. A nasty fight on the front pages could very well create a situation in congress where the money is stopped. Especially if Clinton or Obama were secure in their nomination and looking for a way to make themselves relevant.

But as it is, Iraq is on page 12, while the Democratic food fight fills up the news and commentary pages.

Derek

3/26/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I have a good feeling about this. It just seems like methodical mopping up. One block group at a time, one sector at a time, one province at a time. Maliki is beginning to look good. If he can get some credit for ass-kicking in Basra, his political future will be insured, and his commitment to inclusive democracy will be cemented. Sistani has already shown his preference for democracy. If the Kurds don't fly the coop and if the Sunnis learn how to salute a Shia government, then this could all turn out to be a pretty good situation. I'm more worried about Afghanistan/Pakistan right now.

3/26/2008 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I can't get behind Maliki befause he looks devious and oily. That's an unfortunate personal prejudice, but I look at him and I see Kruschev.

Not only is he toadly and ugly, but he has supported a government internally that is siphoning off money, runs death squads from its personal offices, won't send legitimate funds to Sunni areas, makes official phone calls demanding that arrested terrorists be releaed, and practices hiring discrimination by hiring only Shiites ... and you just *know* that the Shiites being hired are the cousins, uncles and aunts of the people who did manage to get themselves elected.

Surely it's time to take another stab at elections in Iraq. I don't understand why the Americans, if not the Iraqi's themselve, aren't agitating for this.

3/27/2008 06:09:00 AM  

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