Friday, March 28, 2008

Basra Heats Up, Threatens Surge Benefits for U.S.

"The collapse of the cease-fire could have disastrous consequences for Iraqi stability. The relative lull in assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings that accompanied it might end, wiping out some of the gains of the U.S. "surge" in Baghdad and its surrounding areas....

U.S. military officials have stressed repeatedly that one of the main reasons for the steep drop in violence during the U.S. troop surge is the cease-fire declared by al-Sadr in August. With the massive Iraqi military operation under way in Al-Basrah, that agreement clearly is in serious jeopardy."

- Radio Free Europe

Juan Cole explains that the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections in Iraq has provoked the most recent step-up on violence in Basra. He also believes that VP Dick Cheney is wrong (as he has been so many times) about this recent Iraq war strategy (with an apparent motive to destroy the Mahdi army). You can read Professor Cole's reasoning here. An AP report on the most recent bombing of Basra by the U.S. (with British support) underscores the fact that, while Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr is calling out for a political solution to the burgeoning crisis and an end to the 'shedding of Iraqi blood', the risk is increasing that the U.S. and its allies in Iraq "could be drawn into an internal Shiite conflict that has threatened to unravel al-Sadr's cease-fire and spark a new cycle of violence after months of relative calm" [see NYT link].

It seems that this turn of events is, in good part, a U.S. silent war with Iran as the U.S. remains in Iraq. reports that "the Basra operation will serve as a litmus test of just how far Washington can push Iran aside."

Iran needs the Shiite militia card to counter the Sunni threat wielded by the United States ...

It is in the short-term interests of PM Nouri al-Maliki and ISCI leader Abdel Aziz alal-Hakim to offer Washington a way to reduce U.S. reliance on Tehran for stability in Iraq.....

Basra is among the few regions in the Shiite south where the ISCI — Iran’s principal Iraqi Shiite ally, which dominates Iraqi security forces in the south — faces a significant challenge. The governor of Basra is from the Fadhila party, an ISCI rival...

Targeting the chief rivals of the ISCI, which seeks to establish an autonomous Shiite region in the south, gives al-Hakim’s group an opportunity to consolidate itself in what is perhaps the most important part of the Shiite south. This could prove quite useful ahead of provincial elections set for later this year.
[source: Stratfor]

This new violence, if it entrenches the U.S. deeper into Iraq's civil wars, stands to make the so-called success of 'the surge' in Iraq no more than a distant memory for the American public. Even the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front is opposed to the attack on the Mahdi Army, with its leader Adnan Dulaimi, saying that it does not work to the benefit of Iraq. In Baghdad, al-Hayat is reporting that thousands of protesters came out to rally against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, demanding that he resign and threatening him with a trial worse than that of Saddam Hussein. It seems to me that any benefit to the U.S. image [in the American public's mind] from having created a fragile and temporary peace stands to be wiped away by the appearance of the U.S. decision to join the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [ISCI] in destroying the Mahdi army. The new violence will pervade the world media's coverage of the war and serve to reestablish the appearance of U.S. strategy as that of the occupier rather than the strategic diplomat and peacemaker.

If asked what the American public thinks about all of this, Dick Cheney would likely shrug his shoulders and, once again, show his pure disdain for the People with a "So?"