Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Events in Iraq

Instapundit offered a modest round-up of mainstream media reporting on the fluid situation in Iraq, yesterday linking to a Richard Miniter post at Pajamas Media. Miniter commented on the NY Times employment of a former Iraqi Army Officer (serving as late as 2003) as stringer for reporting on the situation in Basra:
Got that? The New York Times reporter was an officer in Saddam’s army. Nice. By the way, officers were not drafted (that’s how the enlisted ranks were filled). Officers had to be selected and regularly vetted for loyalty and effectiveness. So Saddam decided that he could trust our intrepid correspondent and so did the New York Times. . . . This is Seinfeld reporting—“news” about nothing. As for the New York Times, one wonders why they didn’t embed a reporter with the Iraqi forces streaming south. Like Dr. Zaius, were they afraid of what they might find?
Instapundit also links to Commentary and Dean Esmay, who likewise discredit media accounts that spin the current situation as a disaster for the Iraqi Government and a triumph for Sadr:
I haven’t seen the media swoon this hard over a militant anti-American in decades. Is Sadr the new Che?" Well, Che was an incompetent buffoon who was a media hero, so…
Meanwhile, others on the left-leaning side of mainstream media reporting on the situation in Basra and Baghdad have adopted the same spin. In NPR’s Morning Edition today, Dina Temple-Raston compared Maliki’s stern before-the-offensive vow that Iraq would “crush militias” with what Raston questionably characterizes as Maliki “suing for peace” by the end of the week.

How much by way of factual detail does Temple-Raston present in her warmed up leftovers of wire reporting? Precious little, it turns out, wrapped effusively in subjective coloration, all negative on Maliki and all hype on Sadr.

Temple-Raston starts out by quoting a former member of Human Rights Watch, regular critic of US and Iraqi efforts, and an advocate for making peace with Iran, Joost Hilterman:
"It doesn't look very good for Mr. Maliki, launching a campaign and giving an ultimatum to the Sadrists and then accomplishing nothing," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group: "Already there are rumors in the Green Zone today that ... Adel Abdul Mehdi, one of the senior leaders of the Supreme Council" will be the next prime minister. "I am not sure that will happen, but the fact that this is being rumored is significant."
Temple-Raston then provides some analytic background on Maliki: he doesn’t have his own militia [ed. Just his own Army], and he was a compromise choice of armed factions.

Temple-Raston slips in more quotes from Hiltermann:
"Clearly, the Iraqi security forces cannot stand on their own. They have shown they cannot in this internal policing effort, and they certainly cannot defend the country, which is what an army is supposed to be doing," Hiltermann said. "The United States provided air support and some Special Forces support for the campaign in Basra, and that didn't clearly tip the balance. The American generals know the Iraqi army is very far from the army it is supposed to become."
Followed immediately by an unsourced, unverifiable generalized statement:
Iraqis may be sensing that, too. They spent last week watching as Sadr's Mahdi Army militia ran roughshod over Iraqi security forces. The two sides fought to a stalemate until American forces finally swooped in to help.
I’d love to know how Temple-Raston demonstrated to her own satisfaction the factual accuracy of her subjective impressions. Oh yes, I’m aware that the liberal Washington Monthly is describing what happened as Maliki seeking a truce with Sadr, but on the ground reports from sources not inherently hostile to the Iraqi Government suggest the Iraqi Army hasn’t finished their work in Basra, and surely isn’t “retreating” or surrendering” to a “newly strengthened” Sadr.

Meanwhile, amateur journalist Wretchard at Belmont Club provides real insight, and links to another irregular, Bill Roggio, for supporting evidence for his assessment:
As I wrote earlier, this is a struggle for supremacy between power centers in the Shi'ite community. Nance claims we are watching a game of "fight to the politics" and I agree. But I disagree with the assessment that the Iraqi Army has lost. Right now the Iraqi Army has peformed in an uneven manner, in some ways surpassing every expectation as demonstrated by its ability to carry out ops in places even the Brits didn't try for, but in other ways it failed to carry out its mission.

But as in the metaphor that a "gambit" has been played, we are only in the opening moves. We haven't gotten to the middle game between Maliki versus Sadr nor remotely close to the endgame. About all we can be sure of is that more yet to come. And although a "ceasefire" has been declared in the newspapers, in truth the ceasefire is bound to be temporary. The fact that a gambit has been played suggests there is going to be a winner and a loser. The question is whether it will be Maliki or Sadr. The Iraqi Army must, for political reasons, settle this affair on their own.
According to Bill Roggio:
While Sadr spokesman said the Iraqi government agreed to Sadr's terms for the cease-fire, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said the security forces will continue operations in Basrah in the South. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army took heavy casualties in Basrah, Nasiriyah, Babil, and Baghdad over the weekend, despite Sadr's call for the end of fighting.

The Iraqi military said it was moving in more forces into the South after admitting it was surprised by the level of resistance encountered in Basrah. "Fresh military reinforcements were sent to Basra to start clearing a number of Basra districts of wanted criminals and gunmen taking up arms," said Brigadier General Abdel Aziz al Ubaidi, the operations chief for the Ministry of Defense. "Preparations for fresh operations have been made to conduct raids and clearance operations in Basra ... [and] military operations would continue to restore security in Basra."
(Also via Instapundit)

Courtesy of The Corner, Michael Ledeen gives background from when the fighting started, writing for Pajamas Media. He links to an early round-up Jules Crittenden, who “asks all the right questions,” according to Ledeen, “What kicked this off? Who’s fighting whom? Who’s gonna win? Is it good for us or bad for us?”

Ledeen explains:
The best way to understand these events is to take one little step back, and note that our people are being rocketed in Baghdad, and that the rockets are made and delivered by the mullahs. Likewise, the Mahdi Army groups in the south get lots of Iranian arms, money and other assistance, as do the terrorists now cornered in and around Mosul. Coalition forces have found large caches of weapons (RPGs, mortars, land mines, advanced IEDs) of recent Iranian manufacture all over Iraq in recent days, suggesting, to me at least, that Iran is throwing its dice in a desperate effort to reverse the strategic catastrophe in Iraq. In other words, the mullahs know they are losing. Their great dream of driving America out of Iraq, which seemed to be about be fulfilled just a year and a half ago, has now turned into the nightmare of humiliation and defeat for the Islamic Republic. And now–again as Jules stresses–the Maliki Government is attacking the remnants of the Mahdi Army in Basra, that same government the mullahs thought they had under control.

A lot of the coverage revolves around the colorful figure of Moqtada al Sadr, as if he were calling some of the shots in Baghdad and Basra, but those stories are anachronistic. Mookie is no longer a major player in these events. The mullahs gave up on him several months ago, split his “army” of thugs into many pieces, and command the warlords who lead them. So, while some of the killers in Basra are what we would call common criminals, the more or less organized Mahdi crowd are carrying out Tehran’s design.

Let’s take another step backward. At the outset of the war, Khamenei and his ilk fully expected to gain the support of most Iraqi Shi’ites, and to create little regional islamic republics, starting in Basra. They spent an enormous amount of money, buying local properties, opening stores and offices (I heard of one with a sign on the door: “Iranian Military Intelligence”), bribing local officials and businessmen. Today, on the most reliable accounts, most Iraqi Shi’ites (and Sunnis, for that matter) despise the Iranian regime, blame it for most of the violence, and are fighting Iranians and their proxies throughout the land. When Ahmadi-Nezhad came to Baghdad, the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sistani, declined to meet him, even as thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the streets against Iran. Sistani could probably have shut down the demonstrations…

Then there is the question of Maliki and his government, in which Iran has invested so many resources. As some clever person once said, you can’t really buy anyone in the Middle East, at best you can rent him for a while. Any Iraqi leader must take out insurance with Tehran, because the mullahs can kill a lot of people in Iraq. But al Qaeda is now on the verge of extinction there, and there is a bottom-up war against the militias from Sunni and Shi’ite alike. Democracy works its magic, even in the Middle East, and Maliki wants to keep his job. Right now, that requires him to fight the Iranian-sponsored militias. There must be a lot of teeth gnashing in Tehran these days, and lots of colorful curses aimed at Baghdad.
Lots of differing perspectives on what this all means, and every view comes from some vantage point of vested interests or opinions.

I know where McClatchy, AP, NPR, Reuters, and most of the MSM has invested most heavily: Iraq’s a failure, and catastrophic misadventure by Bush and Co. I can see clearly enough those who have already made accommodation with Iran, either directly in their employ or leaning towards where they think the winds are blowing. I know how eager Democrats in Congress would like this election year to yet churn out some nugget of partisan gold, in worsening events in Iraq. (Though they’ll no doubt remain very, very quiet, until they see some glimpse of certain doom.)

And in certain contrast, I can read for myself what careful analysts like Roggio and Wretchard and Ledeen are seeing as events play out in Iraq. I know who I find more credible, but the next few weeks will no doubt prove the matter out.

Since the British control Basra as their share of the Coalition load, and are now postponing redeployments, why is it that US domestic war opponents think this should influence Congressional reaction to General Petraeus’ next report later this month?

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