More on Sadr
Malcolm Nance comments on the campaign against Sadr at the Small Wars Journal and calls it a "defining gambit". Here are some key excerpts.
it was the MNF-I that broke the truce last Tuesday when they felt the Iraqi army ready to take on the JAM in their southern stronghold. ... Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Basrah on 24 March ahead of what was being labeled “a major security push” that was massive for the Iraqi army. It was a planned gamble to snatch Iraq’s second largest city away from the JAM.
The Basrah operation appeared to be a chance for the Iraqi army to attempt the “seize, clear, control and retain” strategy. Maliki would adopt the same counterinsurgency pattern seen in the 2007 Baghdad Security Plan (BSP), Operation Enforcing the Law (Fadhl al-Qanoon).
The first objective is to neutralize and/or drive out the insurgents and criminal elements like the notorious Garamsheh tribe. The army would then start securing the local population from the insurgents to dry up their base of support, most likely through compounding neighborhoods with Texas barriers, ala Baghdad. The next phase would be to segregate the hot sectors of the city from each other and keeping a heavy boot down on resistant sectors under their control. ...
Playing Splinter Cell - Targeting the JAM, Piece by Piece. For the last year the MNF-I has embarked on a campaign to isolate the JAM one cell at a time and bring them to heel through a series of targeted raids. ... This progressive labeling allowed the MNF-I to break JAM units they identified apart from major JAM concentrations and clear areas of interest such as Hillah piecemeal. Cautiously balancing al-Sadr’s popularity, loyalty and willingness to adhere to the cease-fire, these cells would not be attacked as part of the JAM as a whole, but were attacked a little at a time. ... Considering that Maliki’s Badr Corps is just as closely aligned with Iran as the JAM, it attempt to seize Basrah draws suspicion.
My discussions this week with Iraqi Shiite friends trapped in Basrah and Baghdad is that most Shiites in Southern Iraq do not see it that way. They see this as a fight between two rival militias, the Badr Corps (aka Maliki and the Iraqi army) and the JAM.
No one who has ever been to Basrah would predict that the Iraqi Army, even with US Special Operations support would penetrate the Hiyaniyah district, a large swath of poverty-filled slums dominated by the JAM. Iraqi and US Special Operations had to spearhead the offensive there and still have yet to make more than limited headway. The British tried for five years and now have retired comfortably at Basrah airport. ...
the Basrah Operation may have also been an attempt at a Hail Mary pass for both General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in the heart of the election season. To show dramatic tangible gains all across Iraq would bolster the President’s case for continuing the war. This is most likely due to pressure, if not direct orders from the White House through the Vice President’s visit last month.
As I wrote earlier, this is a struggle for supremacy between power centers in the Shi'ite community. Nance claims we are watching a game of "fight to the politics" and I agree. But I disagree with the assessment that the Iraqi Army has lost. Right now the Iraqi Army has peformed in an uneven manner, in some ways surpassing every expectation as demonstrated by its ability to carry out ops in places even the Brits didn't try for, but in other ways it failed to carry out its mission.
But as in the metaphor that a "gambit" has been played, we are only in the opening moves. We haven't gotten to the middle game between Maliki versus Sadr nor remotely close to the endgame. About all we can be sure of is that more yet to come. And although a "ceasefire" has been declared in the newspapers, in truth the ceasefire is bound to be temporary. The fact that a gambit has been played suggests there is going to be a winner and a loser. The question is whether it will be Maliki or Sadr. The Iraqi Army must, for political reasons, settle this affair on their own.
Maliki must know this, or have realized it, because Bill Roggio is reporting that while Sadr may have declared a ceasefire, the government has not.
While Sadr spokesman said the Iraqi government agreed to Sadr's terms for the cease-fire, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said the security forces will continue operations in Basrah in the South. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army took heavy casualties in Basrah, Nasiriyah, Babil, and Baghdad over the weekend, despite Sadr's call for the end of fighting.
The Iraqi military said it was moving in more forces into the South after admitting it was surprised by the level of resistance encountered in Basrah. "Fresh military reinforcements were sent to Basra to start clearing a number of Basra districts of wanted criminals and gunmen taking up arms," said Brigadier General Abdel Aziz al Ubaidi, the operations chief for the Ministry of Defense. "Preparations for fresh operations have been made to conduct raids and clearance operations in Basra ... [and] military operations would continue to restore security in Basra."
Roggio continues to emphasize that Sadr's forces have taken heavy casualties, and more to the point is low on ammunition. He surveys the action not only in Basra, but in Baghdad and Nasiriyah and notes that the fightint has died down. One characteristic of militia forces is that they are not configured for sustained combat. They fight with ready-use ammo and some caches. But if we assume that Maliki has decided to press on with the attack and that US forces will not involve themselves, the events of the next few days will depend on the strategic mobility and sustainment capability of the Iraqi Army. That is, whether they can bring up and deploy reinforcements at a far faster rate than the Madhi Army can respond. The next week will show whether Maliki has the will or capability to fight this to the finish or whether he will let Sadr dance away in order to recover.
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