Sunday, March 30, 2008

The battle in the south of Iraq 

I was going to write a post today about the battle in the south of Iraq, in which the central government is attempting to consolidate its authority over the objections of the Mahdi army. Thing is, I was busy hiking in the woods with the dogs and making tacos and swapping snark with my daughter, and all of that was more important. So instead check out the big pile of links and commentary over at Instapundit.

There are enemies in Iraq who have not yet tired of fighting, so there will be more fighting. Still, the fact that Moqtada al-Sadr blinked today and ordered his fighters to stand down says one of three things: the Mahdi army is losing big time, al-Sadr has no nerve, or both. Any and all would bring victory closer.

UPDATE Monday morning: The NYT positions the al-Sadr ceasefire as a negotiated stalemate, weakening Prime Minister al-Maliki (which had intended to disarm the Shiite militias).

Stratfor has the most interesting take, suggesting a much more subtle American and Iranian influence than is available on the pages of most press and blog coverage (bold emphasis added):

There have been signs for several months now that the al-Sadrite militia, the Mehdi Army, is moving away from its original role as a renegade outfit. Sunday’s move by al-Sadr in the wake of the Iraqi military’s Basra operation, however, is the strongest indication to date that the al-Sadrite movement no longer will be challenging the writ of the Iraqi central government dominated by its Shiite rivals. The silencing of the al-Sadrite guns required Iranian acquiescence.

Two key Shiite parliament members — Hadi al-Amri from the Badr Organization (affiliated with the movement led by Iraq’s most powerful and most pro-Iranian politician Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim) and Ali al-Adeeb (deputy leader of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party) — traveled to Tehran to get the Iranians to pressure al-Sadr. It is quite interesting that al-Sadr’s announcement comes a little over a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd’s trip to Baghdad. There are reports that during that trip, in a secret meeting with U.S. officials, Ahmadinejad offered to finally help Washington stabilize Iraq in exchange for security guarantees for Tehran. It is unclear to what extent the Iranians and Americans agreed to cooperate on Iraqi security, but the Basra security operation did not emerge in a vacuum.

The Basra operation was a way for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to extend its writ to one of the last remaining and critical outposts in the Shiite south — the oil-rich Basra region. While there are other Shiite factions and oil syndicates in the area targeted by the operation, the main target was the al-Sadrite militia. It also should be noted that the operation was not limited to Basra; it targeted other al-Sadrite strongholds in the Shiite south and Baghdad.

The Iranians have realized that they no longer can use the Shiite militia threat against the United States to force Washington’s hand on Iraq without jeopardizing their own interests. Thus far, Tehran had allowed intra-Shiite conflicts to persist in the hopes of using violence perpetrated by Shiite militants to pressure the United States into accepting Iranian terms for stabilizing Iraq. More recently, though, Iran had a rude awakening when the U.S. military began cultivating its own direct relations with members of al-Sadr’s movement. This demonstrated that Washington was not beholden to Iranian goodwill to stabilize Iraq and that all roads to Baghdad did not go through Tehran.

It was not just the threat of unilateral moves on the part of the Americans that forced the Iranians into a course correction. The Iranians were also terrified that the schisms within the Iraqi Shiite landscape have deteriorated so badly over the past five years that unless Tehran acted soon, any hope that its Shiite proxies would be able to dominate Iraq would evaporate into thin air. In other words, reining in the al-Sadrites was no longer something that was purely a U.S. interest; it was a necessity from the Iranian point of view.

Iran expects that al-Sadr’s backing down can help get the Iraqi Shiite house in order. After all, as long as the Shia (who, despite being the majority, have never ruled Iraq) are at war with themselves, they have no chance of standing up to the Sunnis, much less dominating Iraq. Iran, at a bare minimum, wants an Iraq that can never again threaten its national security, and it needs cohesion among the Shia for that purpose.

Just how much cohesion the Iraqi Shia are capable of will become apparent in the coming months.

Release the hounds.


By Blogger Jim VAT, at Sun Mar 30, 11:49:00 PM:

Walking with dogs, snarfing tacos and snarking with your daughter is far more important that this blog. Good choices.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 10:10:00 AM:

I humbly submit that if the US and Iran did in fact make a secret security agreement last month concerning things like this, then it would not have been necessary for Iraqi lawmakers to travel to Iran to negotiate this now.

Also, were reigning in the JAM a 'necessity' from the Iranian point of view (and I'm not saying it isn't) then why would either the US or Iraq negotiate for that? You don't bribe an opponent to do something he's already going to do. That's just throwing away resources. Besides, every dead JAM fighter is another step toward a unified country.

The jaish is trying to pull a Hezb'Allah and maintain armed independence. However, Hezb Allah exists under the Syrian umbrella, and Iranian influence in Iraq has never reached the same level that Syria maintains over Lebanon. Iraq seems committed to disarming the JAM, by force if necessary, to establish and maintain its sovereignty. Good for them.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 10:29:00 AM:

Dawnfire, there is always to consideration that all this killing is tragic.
Yes, we can do it, but it makes the final 'reconciiation' harder when it is paved by a lot of dead bodies.
The US will soon be withdrawing from Iraq (based on the probable election of Obama in 2008), but Iran will still be there. Iraq has to have some kind of realistic relationship with Iran.

Just my opinion, and probably wrong at that.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 10:48:00 AM:

Nibras Kazimi at Tailsman Gate does not have much use for James Glanz and the NYT reporting on Basra. I think Nibras has been better on Shiite politics than most other sources.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 11:46:00 AM:

Sometimes there cannot be a reconciliation without a lot of dead bodies. That's why wars occur, after all.

Iraq does have to have some kind of working relationship with Iran, even if it's informal, but I think they'd prefer that it not be a client-master relationship. The JAM is a foreign (Iranian) proxy force that seems insistent on maintaining itself as a private army and ruling Iraqi territory. That should be unacceptable to Iraq, as for any sovereign power anywhere.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 05:59:00 PM:

As I posted on this blog Dec. 12th (11:04pm), I supposed the first part of a deal with Iran was sealed with Ahmadinejad's visit to NY in September. Prior to that I guess the US offered to lay off on its plans of invasion if Iran could successfully lower the violence in Iraq after the Surge began. I also hypothesize the U.S. knew before the surge that it was possible to make deals with Sunni insurgents but had held off on doing so in order to avoid undercutting Maliki's government. Troop numbers is probably the least significant reason for the success of the Surge.  

By Blogger davod, at Mon Mar 31, 06:42:00 PM:

The Coalotion was making deals with the Sunis before the surge started.  

By Blogger Noumenon, at Tue Apr 01, 05:30:00 AM:

More recently, though, Iran had a rude awakening when the U.S. military began cultivating its own direct relations with members of al-Sadr’s movement.

I didn't hear about that. In fact, I thought that we were still arresting Mahdi army officers, putting a strain on the cease fire.  

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