Friday, March 28, 2008


It seems that no one really knows what's going on in Basra. I've read a whole bunch of explanations, but this one from Juan Cole seems the most plausible:

People are asking me the significance of the fighting going on in Basra and elsewhere. My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists [c]oming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary. Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'
This, my friends, is the face of Iraq nationalism:

A young Mahdi army militiaman.

That's the problem with popular politicians. They're popular because of what they represent. Sadr represents the only viable Iraq national identity that is resistant to the U.S. occupation. His popularity among millions of young, unemployed Iraqi's can't be fought away. I think this action by Maliki will simply weaken his hand and "reawaken" the Sunni awakening councils who are rearming and awaiting their time to retake the country after the Shiites have torn each other to shreds.

Seems to me we're seeing an unfolding of the pre-war predictions by the dirty hippies ..... a continuous civil war unleashed with the Americans in the middle.

Added: Josh Marshall makes a great point. Perhaps Maliki knows that American support may "dwindle" next year after Bush is gone. So this would be the time to get rid of your enemies, while you've got a mercenary force (Americans) in the country to guarantee you won't lose (notice I didn't say win).

Added: Maliki first said there was a three day deadline. Now he's changed his mind and says he really really really means it this time with a ten day deadline .... and they'll bribe buy back weapons from Sadrists. The last time we bought off Sadr it was for $30 million plus which I'm sure got the Mahdi army new, upgraded weapons! Wonder what he could buy with this new buyout.

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