Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The long count

Repeat after me. Moqtada al-Sadr is the uncrowned king of Iraq. Well, maybe not. The NYT reports: "Iraqi Troops Take Charge of Sadr City in Swift Push".

The long-awaited military operation, which took place without the involvement of American ground forces, was the first determined effort by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood, which has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric. ...

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

Earlier efforts in Basra were marred by a failure to "shape" the battlefield; that is, clear it of civilians. Political considerations are uppermost in operations of this kind which means that inconvenience to the public is to be avoided when possible. This time, the Iraqis crept up on Sadr. The US military corralled the JAM forces with huge concrete fences to permit defeat in detail. Then the Iraqis pushed through.

The timing of Tuesday’s operation was kept secret. Late Monday night, the Americans removed slabs in the concrete wall they had erected to cordon the neighborhood, in order that Iraqi forces could pass through. American M-1 tanks guarded the gaps throughout the rest of the night until the offensive began. ...

All told, six Iraqi battalions advanced north on six parallel routes. At full strength, an Iraqi battalion consists of about 700 troops. Two Iraqi companies ventured even farther north to secure the Iman Ali Hospital and two other sites.

It's getting harder and harder to maintain the fiction that the Surge has succeeded only because Moqtada al-Sadr has magnanimously allowed it to flourish. Sadr earlier threatened all out war on US forces. Bill Roggio writes:

On April 20, Sadr threatened to conduct a third uprising, but later backed down from his threat, claiming it was directed only at US forces. The Maliki government has stood firm and said operations would continue until the Mahdi Army and other militias disarm and disband. On May 1, the Iraqi government sent a delegation to confront Iran on its involvement with the insurgency, but Sadr, who is currently in Iran, refused to meet with the Iraqi government representatives. On May 10, the Sadrist movement signed an agreement with the Iraqi government that would allow the Army and police to move into Sadr City unopposed.

While Sadr's day may be ending, he and his backers can still be saved by the bell. Moribund insurgencies have been given new life by political developments before.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Mark said...

Great photo/reminder of President Clinton and the politics of gesture and good intentions.

The cliches and meme-bites in the NYT's reports ooze out of every sentence and clause. Embarrassing.

5/21/2008 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Back in 2003 the BBC posted an article called "How Oslo's hopes were crushed".

We also learned subsequently that Oslo was not the path to peace.

At the time, though, it looked good. That Mr Rabin and Mr Arafat would even shake hands was stunning. Mr Rabin had been a classic Israeli general, Mr Arafat the classic guerrilla leader. That they had approved of the Oslo plan was a moment of rare hope. ...

n retrospect, it could be argued that it was all the wrong way round. Security was supposed to lead to a settlement. Perhaps a settlement could have led to peace. Instead of ending with a state, perhaps they should have started with a state.

By this I mean that nobody knew what would be the end point of the talks. The Palestinians did not know if they would get the kind of state they wanted. So there was nothing for moderates to rally round when the rejectionists started the bombing. That bombing meant that the Israelis had no safety, leading in turn to a refusal to take the process on until they had.

And so it all fell apart, despite heroic efforts by Mr Clinton at Camp David in 2000 when he brought Mr Arafat and the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (another ex-general) close, or so it seemed, to agreement. Perhaps it was one of those near agreements which simply define the differences. ...

The trouble is that, 10 years on from the handshake on the lawn, the moderates are not in control.

The centre did not hold.

The last sentence says it all. Negotiations are not same as wishful thinking. They must at bottom be founded on reality. But today they have become a substitute for it.

5/21/2008 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger joe buz said...

Look for Mooky to welcome the occupation of Sadr City by the Iraqi troops from an undisclosed location across the border in Iran. Hell he may even convince the MSM that it was his idea in the first place to bring the new rule of law and services to "his" people.

5/21/2008 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Sadr has been playing a double game. Pretending he's peaceful while acting the belligerent. MNF-I has been playing a double game too. Describing Sadr as peaceful while treating him as a belligerent. The Washington Post reports:

In the view of U.S. officials, every bona fide member of the Mahdi Army is obeying Sadr's cease-fire, and any member fighting U.S. or Iraqi troops is by definition violating his leader's order and therefore a rogue element. Senior U.S. military commanders said they were targeting only those rogue elements, whom they refer to either as special groups or simply criminals.

Yet that distinction does not account for a man who has been one of the U.S. military's top targets in Sadr City: Tahseen al-Freiji, the senior Mahdi Army commander in the enclave. Hort said the goal was to remove Freiji and other top targets as threats, either by detaining or killing them.

Hort and other officials describe Freiji, believed to be in his late 30s, as "mainstream JAM." They said that the U.S. military initially targeted him in 2006 and 2007 for his role in sectarian attacks on Sunnis but that he was taken off the list of targets after he heeded Sadr's cease-fire last August. In March, though, he resumed his attacks after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched an offensive against Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra and later in Sadr City.

U.S. officials said that Freiji commands a full brigade in Sadr City, directing 6,000 to 8,000 men. They said he has given orders to launch rockets and mortar shells; fire rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles; and set roadside bombs, including powerful ones known as explosively formed penetrators that the U.S. military has said are supplied by Iran.

According to the Post, the US and Iraqi forces have been continuously knocking of Sadr's men in a continuous fight that has been described as a "ceasefire".

"We've killed so many of his Mahdi Army militia guys, but they just keep shooting and shooting," yelled Hartig, 23, of Concord, Calif., as he struggled to be heard over the cacophony of Bradley Fighting Vehicles firing back with 25mm cannons. "Sadr is a really tough enemy."

But maybe he's behind the success of the Surge. At least some media commentators think so.

5/21/2008 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Wretchard said:

"Sadr has been playing a double game. Pretending he's peaceful while acting the belligerent. MNF-I has been playing a double game too. Describing Sadr as peaceful while treating him as a belligerent."

Welcome to the Middle East.

Barack Hussein is going to solve all our problems there by simply talking to these guys.

5/21/2008 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Ina reprise of the action in Sadr City, PBS' News Hour experts say,
first: the JAM has allowed the Iraqi Army to hold a small corner of Sadr City.
Second: the Iraqi Army has been allowed to act as a Militia.
Third: JAM has willingly given up its heavy arms to the army and is a participant in the action.

Why is it that this gets air time despite the lead up and build up and execution have been ignored?

5/22/2008 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger McDaddyo said...

Repeat after me:
The NY Times is liberal propaganda, but only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the week, it churns out news the right wingnutosphere uses, decontextualized, to tout its worldview.

5/24/2008 07:38:00 AM  

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