U.S. Has Little Influence, Few Options in Iraq's Volatile South
As U.S. warplanes attacked targets in Basra yesterday, Bush administration officials acknowledged that their hands-off strategy toward southern Iraq in recent years has left them with little knowledge of the conflicts among competing Shiite groups there and few ways of influencing them.
President Bush yesterday hailed the decision of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to launch a full-scale military offensive against militias in Basra as a "defining moment" for his leadership. But other officials said the administration remains unsure of Maliki's motives and warned that the ongoing battle risks sending the country spiraling back toward the cataclysmic violence levels of 2006 and early 2007.
"This is a precarious situation," a senior official familiar with U.S. intelligence in southern Iraq said, with "a lot to be gained and a lot to lose." This official and others said that even as Maliki takes needed military action in Basra, he appears to be positioning himself and his Shiite political allies for dominance in provincial elections this fall.
Competition for power and resources in the oil-rich south has been ongoing for months among the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the Badr Corps militia of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest single party in the Iraqi parliament; and the breakaway Sadrist movement known as Fadhila. The Shiite groups are opposed and allied with each other in a tangle of national and local issues, with many divisions reflected in factions of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces.
Although the Bush administration has tried to monitor the growing conflict in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, "our intelligence in that area is far less than we would like. We don't have any forces there," the senior official said, adding that "we are operating with a good dose of opaqueness."
As outlined by several civilian and military officials, none of whom was authorized to speak on the record, a victory in Basra against what Bush described as "those who believe they are outside the law" could prove Maliki's mettle. "Basra's been a mess for a long time," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, "and everybody's said to Maliki, 'What are you doing about it?' "
But this official and others said that if the fighting in Basra leads to a breakdown in the cease-fire observed since August by the bulk of Sadr's forces elsewhere in the country, it could easily shatter the tenuous U.S. security gains of recent months.
The violence has already spread to Baghdad, where Iraqi and U.S. forces yesterday continued sporadic fighting with militia members in the sprawling eastern enclave known as Sadr City. Despite indications that many of the fighters were mainline Mahdi Army, U.S. officials chose to consider them members of "special groups" that have resisted Sadr's authority. To acknowledge otherwise would be to declare a de facto end to the cease-fire.
A renewal of significant violence in the capital and the surrounding area of central Iraq could lead to the collapse of U.S. security arrangements with former Sunni insurgents known as the Sons of Iraq. "All the same players and all the same weapons are still out there," said Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
The sieges of Basra and Sadr City: another US war crime in Iraq
By Bill Van Auken
29 March 2008
US fighter planes and helicopter gunships struck the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the teaming slums of Baghdad’s Sadr City with bombs and missiles Friday as the offensive launched by Iraqi puppet troops against the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia loyal to Muqtada al Sadr, faltered badly.
These air attacks, carried out in densely populated cities, represent another war crime in the five-year-old campaign of aggression and colonial-style occupation carried out by Washington in pursuit of US strategic interests in the region.
Fighting raged for a fourth straight day Friday, with US helicopters firing HHellfire missiles into Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad that is home to some 2 million people. US military sources said the attack killed four “terrorists.” Film from the area, however, showed dead and wounded children and there were reports that attacks caused dozens of civilian casualties.
The night before, US and British fighter planes bombed neighborhoods in Basra, the port city in southern Iraq, with a population of 1.5 million.
The US military reported Friday morning that American troops had fought running battles with Iraqi militiamen across six neighborhoods of Baghdad the day before. The Pentagon claimed that US forces killed 42 people in the fighting in the Iraqi capital, labeling all of the dead as “terrorists.”
According to some Iraqi estimates, the dead in Basra alone now number over 400, with hundreds more wounded. Fighting is also raging across much of Iraq, with fierce battles reported in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, and Baquba. US sources put the death toll Friday at 170.
American occupation forces have clearly stepped up their role in the crackdown, as Iraqi puppet forces have failed to achieve their objectives. In Basra, some 30,000 Iraqi troops and police have apparently been unable to wrest control from the Mahdi Army over at least three quarters of the city.
While Maliki had initially given a 72-hour ultimatum for the Sadrists in Basra to lay down their arms, he extended it Friday until April 8. The date coincides with scheduled testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to Congress on proposals for continued troop deployments in the occupied country. The eruption of fighting has already led to speculation that Petraeus and the administration may well call for a suspension of the withdrawals that were to have reduced US forces to 140,000—still above the “pre-surge” levels—by this summer.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, the Washington Post reported: “US forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting. “Four US Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army’s AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. US helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.”
Baghdad, like Basra before it, has been placed under a 24-hour curfew that began Thursday night and will run at least until Sunday morning. The effect is to turn the city’s streets into a free-fire zone for occupation troops and their Iraqi puppet allies.
RealNews.com: Iraq battle deadlock
US bombs Baghdad's Sadr City as rockets and mortars hit Green Zone again. Militants defy curfew in Basra
Saturday March 29th, 2008
Why did US green light Iraq gov. attack in Basra?
Why did US green light Iraq gov. attack in Basra?
Pepe Escobar: The battle of Basra rages on
Thursday March 27th, 2008
Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pepe Escobar writes The Roving Eye for Asia Times Online. He has reported from Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, US and China. He is the author of the recently published Red Zone Blues. Pepe is a regular analyst for The Real News Network.
Violence in Basra rages on
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER (VOICEOVER): In Basra, Iraqi army troops and Madhi Army gunmen loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr engaged in a firefight on Wednesday, the second day of heavy clashes. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has given gunmen in the southern oil port city a three-day deadline to surrender their weapons and renounce armed conflict. Spiraling violence between warring factions vying for control of the center of the country's vast oil industry, located near the Iranian border, have claimed numerous casualties.
SINGING GUNMEN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We are the heroes of Muqtada and the whole world knows us. Nouri can do nothing, Al-Mahdi Army is the safeguard.
According to the Associated Press, a US bomb attack in the Baghdad district of Sadr City claimed at least fifteen casualties and wounded 100 after two days of fighting between US-Iraqi forces and fighters loyal to al-Sadr. Speaking from Karbala, al-Sadr's office director, Sheik al-Mohammadawi, had this to say.
SHEIK ABDUL-HADI AL-MOHAMMADAWI, DIRECTOR OF AL-SADR OFFICE IN KARBALA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Under the law, this ferocious attack has been launched against the Mahdi Army. And in a barbaric and savage way, human rights have been violated all over Iraq, from Baghdad, to Hillah, Kut, Diwaniyah, Karbala, and most recently the onslaught led by the prime minister in Basra. The prime minister thought that he was able to undermine the people's will by putting the occupier's agenda into force.
Juan Cole has some good coverage of this on his "Informed Comment"
"Al-Zaman says that the police force in Basra suffered numerous mutinies and instances of insubordination, with policemen refusing to fire on the Mahdi Army. The government response was to undertake a widespread purge of disloyal elements.
Hmm. I wonder where fired policemen with combat training and guns could find another job . . . Maybe with the Mahdi Army?
The Mahdi Army opened a number of new fronts in the fighting, in Nasiriya, Karbala, Hilla, and Diwaniya, as a means of reducing the pressure on its fighters in the holy city of Karbala. Local medical officials reported 36 dead in the fighting in Nasiriya.
The Mahdi Army used its position near Nasiriya to attack government troops attempting to go south to join the effort in Basra, and is said to have inflicted substantial casualties on them."
It looks like the Mahdi Army is more formidable than even the Maliki government knew - how is that possible? How can Maliki not know who and what the Sadrists are and have? Something about this stinks, very badly.
The Brits are not getting involved, at all. The 4000 Brit troops at the airport are keeping a low profile and wishing to hell they could bug the fuck out. Welcome back to Iraq, folks...
I have read in several places
that it is absolutely against international law for an occupying force to bomb a city or any civilian area inside the country that is being occupied. So the Sheik is completely accurate that "human rights have been violated" and that international law has been broken. The US cannot allow AL-Sadr to control the shipping port for all that oil. Even if the US has to kill off half of Iraq to do it, Sadr must go. Maliki is a running dog, Vichy, lackey! But how can Iran continue to support Maliki? This is all too strange for me - the US and Iran both support Maliki, but the US is going to bomb Iran shortly (everyone knows this). Both the US and Iran are anti-Sadr and Sadr is anti both of them... I got nothing...
During the surge, BushCo gave millions to the Sadrists
I guess they wanted to make sure they had a well trained and well armed insurgency.
Well then, the Sadrists played the Bush regime like a fiddle!
The Sadrists have always been Iraqi Nationalists. Hell, even I knew that! If the neocons were giving money to Al-Sadr's organization, they are bigger fools than I thought! Al-Sadr wants the US out of Iraq (I am in accord with Al-Sadr) - the only thing about the Sadrists that the Bushies might like is that they want the Iranians out, too.
The US has a foreign policy and an occupation policy written by idiots...but then you probably already knew this...
Gawd, i just love the M$M...
The sock-puppet/quisling 'government' of al-Maliki jump-starts a US-planned (and ordered?) offensive, apparently without permission, and within days virtually the entire country is plunged into an intra-Shi'ia civil war that spreads wider with each news cycle. And what does the M$M report: "But other officials said the administration remains unsure of Maliki's motives and warned that the ongoing battle RISKS [emphasis added] sending the country spiraling back toward the cataclysmic violence levels of 2006 and early 2007." Can you say, DUH???