The parallels between this action and the Israeli’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon to take on Hezbollah are striking. In both cases, the party that initiated the escalation into high level conflict inflicted substantial damage on their adversary and were able to claim military victory. At the same time, neither came anywhere close to achieving their political objectives. In assessing the 2006 action, I concluded that Israel therefore lost. Absent substantial new information, I’d have to conclude that Maliki was the loser here for the same reason.While Kevin Drum, in two posts, draws attention to the Iranian connection. Following reports that senior Iraqi government negotiators were asking the Iranians to intercede with Sadr on Maliki's behalf even as Maliki was spouting his "never retreat, never surrender" rhetoric and claiming that the Sadrists were worse than Al Qaeda, Kevin writes:
the head of the Badr Organization sure does seem to have, um, remarkably speedy access to the head of Iran's Qods force, doesn't he? It's something to ponder the next time some Bush administration or U.S. Army spokesperson casually maligns Sadr as "Iranian backed" but maintains a discreet silence when it comes to the far deeper and longer-lived Iranian ties of Maliki's own Dawa/Badr alliance. Just sayin'.and also gives his opinion on the winners and losers.
it was Maliki who went to Sadr, not the other way around, and that he did it several days ago. What's more, it was Sadr who laid down the conditions for an end to the violence, not Maliki. This is pretty plainly at odds with the theory that Sadr's statement was a show of weakness, a sign that he was taking more damage than he could stand and was desperate for a truce.But looking beyond Basra today, it's Anthony Cordesman that provides the "must read".
Much of the reporting on this fighting in Basra and Baghdad — which was initiated by the Iraqi government — assumes that Mr. Sadr and his militia are the bad guys who are out to spoil the peace, and that the government forces are the legitimate side trying to bring order. This is a dangerous oversimplification, and one that the United States needs to be far more careful about endorsing.He calls the situation "a civil war Iraq can't win" - and if the Iraqi people, as opposed to the power-players, won't be winners then you can be pretty certain that the US occupation isn't going to come out ahead either.
So far, it appears that the widespread open Shiite civil war that it looked like Maliki had begun is again on the backburner - for now - but Cordesman's analysis of the situation still provides the underlying warp and weft going forward into regional elections. That underlying power struggle will find its expression somehow, somewhere. My guess is that, having tried and failed to harness the power of the State to impose their own rule, the Dawa and SIIC parties will now turn to militias and ballot-rigging to try to salvage their positions before the regional elections. That in itself might well re-ignite violence on a larger scale but what is certain is that there's no defusing this slow-burn civil war.
Cordesman also notes the other two main currents in Iraq which could also flare into violence:
One is that the Sunni tribes and militias that have been cooperating with the Americans could turn against the central government. The second is that the struggle among Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups to control territory in the north could lead to fighting in Kirkuk, Mosul or other areas.and while everyone has had their attention on the South, it's worth noting Walter Pincus in the WaPo who has kept watching the Sunni "Awakening" and writes that the US is increasingly uncertain about the future of the "Sons of Iraq".
At a Pentagon briefing last Wednesday, the commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Diyala province, Col. Jon Lehr, told reporters via videoconference that the Sons of Iraq "are not a permanent security solution," although, he added, "they have been an integral part of our strategy."That divide isn't getting much attention in op-ed columns - just as trhe Shiite divide didn't until it exploded in open conflict. And US officers seem divided on the future of the Awakening going forward too.
The question now is what happens to the Sons of Iraq in the long run. "They were a means to an end," Lehr said. "So what we're attempting to do right now is find employment for the men." He said some could be absorbed into Iraqi security forces -- primarily the police and some in the army.Does anyone actually believe that the leaders of the "political" and "tribal" currents of the Awakening will regard having their forces cut to a fifth of their present strength, while the rest become street-sweepers and mechanics, will be in their own interests - especially given the evidence this last week that Maliki and his allies are quite willing to co-opt State military force to attempt to further theirs? Well, maybe some of the US cheerleading set do - but the rest of us should be looking for yet another explosive fracture at some stage in the future.