The referee's card
Who won again? "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Security forces in the southern Iraqi city of Basra hunted militants Wednesday in a stronghold of a powerful Shiite militia."
The BBC reports that "An Iraqi commander has led a convoy through the stronghold of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr in Basra. Correspondents say the convoy was a show of force and that it met no significant resistance as it went through the Hayaniya district."
Former Spook asks, who correctly interpreted the result of the recent fighting, Robert Dreyfus of the Nation, who declared Sadr the winner, or Bill Roggio who called Sadr the loser?
So, which pundit got it right? We’ll go with Bill Roggio, for a couple of reasons. First of all, let’s assume that the latest Mahdi uprising was aimed at embarrassing (and weakening) the Iraqi government. If the offensive was going so well, why did Sadr—or more correctly, his patrons in Iran—decide to pull the plug? Assuming they still controlled large sections of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, the Mahdi fighters had little reason to lay down their arms.
Instead, it was Sadr who ordered his factions to cooperate with Iraqi security forces. And the reason for that is highlighted in Mr. Roggio’s dispatch. During six days of intense fighting, the Mahdi Army took a beating, literally and figuratively. Even an insurgent force can’t afford to lose over 200 fighters a day, including those killed and wounded.
We doubt that Sadr was concerned about the number of fighters he lost. What he couldn’t tolerate was the image of Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. troops and airpower, routing his forces in Basra and Baghdad. That sort of black eye doesn’t help Sadr, who still views himself as a major political force in Iraq.
Additionally, the Mahdi Army’s latest ill-fated adventure hardly builds confidence in Iran, which has invested millions in supporting Muqtadr al-Sadr and his fighters. Mr. Dreyfus notes that Iraqi lawmakers flew to Tehran during the recent uprising, asking for Iran’s help in ending the fighting. Elements of the Iranian government (most notably the military’s Qods Force) agreed, and Sadr issued his cooperation edict within hours. According to the Nation’s analyst, Iran’s eagerness to help is another example weakness in the Maliki government.
But that narrative seems to contradict the facts. If things were going swimmingly in Basra (and elsewhere), Iran had no incentive to lean on Sadr. On the other hand, if the Mahdi Army was taking unsustainable losses, Iran had ample reason to call a truce. We should also point out that the cease-fire (so far) is one-sided affair. According to Mr. Roggio, the Iraqi government has not called for an cessation of hostilities, and military operations continue.
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