Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraq's Getting Worse

I really haven't felt like posting on the latest increase in violence in Iraq. I've been depressed enough, so thinking about impending disaster isn't high on my agenda. But what I'm seeing appears quite ominous, and the media is (as usual) clueless.
The cease-fire with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army appears to be over. While Sadr's militia is lightly armed and (mostly) poorly trained, they number in the 60,000 to 80,000 range and have the support of several million Shia. al-Sadr had been content to avoid confrontation and await the end of the American occupation before pushing for more power, but his tacit control of Basra may have been too great a challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Basra is the key to the oil:

al-Maliki's hold on power is tenuous at best, but he does have the support of both America and Iran. As usual, read Juan Cole for more in depth analysis, but here are a few bad signs:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
(ISCI, formerly SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim); the Da'wa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Badr Corps paramilitary of ISCI have fled their HQs in Basra and Kut, because of the threat that they will be stormed by Mahdi Army militiamen [seeking revenge for the current offensive], In fact, some such buildings already have been attacked.

Eyewitnesses reported clashes on Tuesday in Sadr City, east Baghdad, led by Mahdi Army militiamen against American and Iraqi forces. The latter had encircled Sadr City, while the Mahdi Army roamed its streets within. The sound of gunfire could be heard, and helicopter gunships were seen hovering above.

This could turn into a very bloody escalation very quickly:

BAGHDAD — With the United States providing air cover and embedded advisers, the Iraqi government on Wednesday expanded its offensive against Shiite Muslim militias from the port city of Basra to the capital of Baghdad — and many of the provinces in between.

The day saw street battles in Baghdad and Basra, mortar attacks by Shiite rebels against Baghdad's Green Zone, bombing by U.S. aircraft and encounters that left government tanks in flames. More than 97 people were reported killed and hundreds were wounded since the operation began early Tuesday.

In Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, clashes between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi security forces supported by U.S. forces left at least 20 dead and 115 were injured. By early afternoon, people took to the streets in protest of the Iraqi government.

Mortar rounds crashed into the heavily fortified Green Zone for the third straight day, injuring three U.S. government employees, all U.S. citizens, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who's directing the operation from Basra, gave the armed groups 72 hours to give up their weapons and surrender without consequences, warning that they'd be treated as outlaws if they didn't.

But al Sadr demanded that Maliki leave Basra and send a parliamentary delegation to hold a dialogue. Maliki immediately rebuffed the demand.

Maliki appears to be taking a huge risk in confronting the volatile city, which is dominated by the Mahdi Army.

Of course, the "success in Iraq" crowd are already spinning events. Check out this headline:

"New Iraq fighting arises from surge's success, Pentagon says"

I had to read that twice, just to be sure I wasn't hallucinating. They really are saying this:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.

Whether this is propaganda or delusion I'll let you decide, but it's flat out wrong. The potential civil war that has been simmering in Iraq is now much closer to boiling over, and the American occupation forces are too small to contain it if it does. This could be a very bloody spring in Iraq.

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