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What’s going on in Iraq?
Posted by: McQ on Friday, March 28, 2008

A short note as today in my other life is the last day of my company's fiscal year, so as you can imagine, I'm up to my ears in end-of-year fun.

I simply haven't been able to give the situation in Iraq as much attention as I'd like. Some quick observations about what I have been able to gleen.

Observation one: This was inevitable. Whether or not this was the time for Maliki to actually do what had to be done is another argument completely. But you can't have two sheriffs in town. At some point, the shia militias had to be confronted. Given the situation in Basra, with rival militias vying for power, it seems a reasonable place to start. Protests and demonstrations by thousands in Sadr city should come as no surprise to anyone.

Observation two: Reports that some Iraqi troops/police are switching sides. Again, I'm not particularly surprised to see some of that happening - especially among police. The pregnant question has always been where the loyalty of some troops/police lay. The obvious intent of part the training is to instill a sense of nation in the Iraqi troops. Obviously it is something which some will buy into and others won't. I think it is to be something to be aware of, but it is also important to monitor how many are doing that.

Observation three: There are reports that US units are beginning to take the lead. One of the things I've been reading about is the size and configuration of the ISF forces, and it appears it may not be adequate to the task in Basra if left on their own. That's one of the reasons US air is supporting the effort. The situation is confused, so I want to be clear that what I'm saying is the result of a fairly cursory glance at the situation and what is being written. However it appears that US "armored forces" (which for news types means anything with tracks, to include Bradleys) have been introduced into the fight. Of course what they bring is enormous firepower (the Bushmaster is one nasty weapon) that can be used to support infantry and help neutralize any force ratio disadvantage. So while they may be in the fight, until I can read more about this, I'm not sure those units are actually taking the lead.

Observation four: This is a "must win" for Maliki. This is not a situation, now that he's initiated it, that he can pull back from until the desired result is achieved. To do so means Sadr wins. So this is a fight to the death, politically speaking. If Sadr and his militia's win, it will be hard for the present government of Iraq to recover from that. If Maliki wins, it will greatly diminish Sadr's clout, both politically and "militarily".

Meanwhile, take careful sips of the reporting throughout the blogosphere. I've seen everything from "Iraq is teetering" to "this is no big deal".

It is a big deal, but not to the extent of Iraq "teetering".

More as I get a chance, but most likely later today.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I thought that some of the report (CNN ?) that said this was not a civil war as it was Shia vs Shia to be laughable.
I don’t seem to remember ever reading about a strong religious content to the US Civil War, so what would make them say such a simple thing ?
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
This is the first sign of the rising election fever in the south. Word on the street is that Sadrists want to hijack the provincial elections. Everybody knows that their criminal methods can severely reduce the chances for holding fair elections and may grant Sadr’s people huge gains at the expense of other Shiite factions such as the SIIC, Da’wa and Fadheela. The stakes are high for the SIIC in particular whose federal dream in the south, which Sadr is opposed to, hinges on the results of provincial elections.
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
The spam is only slightly more irritating than erb. Whither the ’the sky is falling’ post? Whither ’McQ, you know nothing’. Whither, whither, whither???
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Basically I agree your analysis. If Maliki wins (al-Sadr’s forces are essentially disarmed and other militias are folded into the government forces), then I have underestimated the strength of the Iraqi military and it will be a big step towards stability in Iraq. I will, if that happens, revisit my argument that the surge is failing and assess whether or not it’s succeeding after all. However, if Sadr emerges on top and Maliki is forced to retreat, that might lead an uncontrollable situation and the surge will look much closer to failure. If nobody wins — if they back down rather than risk a defeat because they aren’t sure of the outcome — then the question remains unanswered. But the longer this goes on, the less likely Iraq will develop a strong, stable central government.
Written By: Scott Erb
They have to take care of business.

Written By: shark
URL: http://
Bah. Every time I delete that kind of spam, I ask myself how they make a profit. Selling strings of "powerball history" links to the audience of a political blog... who clicks on those links?!
Written By: Bryan Pick
Selling strings of "powerball history" links to the audience of a political blog... who clicks on those links?!
University of Maine Political Science majors?
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
It does seem that Iran isn’t quite having it’s way. Perhaps mkultra missed the boat.
Written By: Don
URL: http://
It does seem that Iran isn’t quite having it’s way. Perhaps mkultra missed the boat.
You’re assuming the conclusion. No one knows how this will play itself out, and over confidence in the past has led to serious disappointment. Wait and see — and don’t forget the close ties Iran also has with the governmental parties. Iran might in fact be in the position to be the broker here, behind the scenes of course.
Written By: Scott Erb
looks like maliki already blinked by extending deadlines.
Written By: slntax
URL: http://
Abu, the fight was started by Maliki, most likely under US pressure. All signs are that Sadr didn’t want the fight at this time. Iran certainly doesn’t care if Obama or McCain win at this point, and it’s rather absurd to think that American electoral concerns are driving actions in Iraq and Iran. It appears, in fact, that Cheney pushed for this during his visit, and Sadr did all he could to try to get Maliki to talk. Maliki wants this fight, he wants to end this split power. We’ll see. Believe it or not, they’re more concerned with the realities in their political situation than American domestic politics.
Written By: Scott Erb
looks like maliki already blinked by extending deadlines.
There are two separate deadlines in place, one of which, the April 8th deadline I believe, for people to turn in weapons for cash, has been extended.

The 3 day deadline for the militia members to lay down their weapons has not, to my understanding, been extended.
Written By: McQ
Practically, the deadlines are meaningless. But the ten day deadline essentially replaced the three day deadline. After all, it’s a better deal — not just lay down your weapons, but get money for them! This is a real test, McQ. For all the noise of blog discussion, it comes down to what happens on the ground. Is the Iraqi government capable of extending control in the south? Will the militias undercut the surge? Who has power in Iraq after all? None of us are really in a position to know for sure, depending on the media sources one reads, ones’ biases, and ones assumptions, we’ve come up with different reads of the situation.

But now things are happening on the ground which will clarify who was right and who was wrong. And I hope I was wrong and Maliki can succeed. We’ll see.
Written By: Scott Erb
This from AFP:
On Wednesday, Maliki gave a 72-hour deadline to Shiite fighters, mostly Mahdi Army militants loyal to the anti-American cleric, to disarm in the southern city of Basra after launching a crackdown against them a day earlier.

The deadline for surrendering heavy and medium weaponry in return for money expired on Friday. After the militia put up stiff resistance, Maliki extended it until April 8.
At this point, it appears the Maliki government has underestimated Sadrist resistance and the campaign is not going as well as expected. But it’s early, the fog of war, and all that...this could be a very crucial moment in the five year long post-Saddam Iraqi evolution.
Written By: Scott Erb

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